Rethinking Program in Retail Design


"Retail will have to appeal to the emotional, experiential, and creative aspects of consumers if they are to be lured away from the keyboard and back onto the shop floor."

The growth of online shopping has in many ways redefined the role of a retail store in a company's business strategy. Freed from its once central function as a point of distribution, retail spaces, from fashion boutiques to big-box stores, have adopted hybrid, and in some cases entirely new programmatic typologies that reflect innovative techniques for value creation. Particularly in high-end retail markets, hybrid typologies are more "experience-centered" than ever before, precisely curated to elicit emotional connections, stimulate aspirations for brand offerings, and mesh with lifestyle needs and demands.

Building on their message of digital exploration and discovery, Apple's successful retail stores were designed to feel like, "a great library (...) that feels like a gift to the community," rather than like a traditional point-of-sale department store. Recognizing the frustration of users with the typical return and repair process, Apple's stores were also conceived as high-tech repair shops. These programmatic innovations have helped Apple to garner revenue per sq. ft. returns far above any other retailer in the US.

Economy-driven retailing has also benefited from restructured programming, especially through the adoption of mobile and in-store technologies for discounts and promotions, in-store back-ordering via web kiosks, and self-check-out. These innovations both enhance customer satisfaction as well as drive cost savings for the retailer.

Developing complimentary strategies for online and physical brand engagement has become crucial in adapting to changing consumer patterns.

Innovating through Cross-Programming

Bodega in Boston uses a surprising juxtaposition, pulled right out of contemporary art playbook, to drive a unique retail and brand concept. Hidden behind a shabby neighborhood storefront selling pickled eggs, expired canned goods, and Draino, lies a wood-paneled back room selling $500 sneakers and high-end apparel. In addition to being superbly ironic, (and therefore highly desirable to hip urban audiences) the two halves of the store actually complement each other programmatically, attracting a mix of local residents and urban fashionistas.

How can hybrid typologies drive unique and complimentary solutions for retail stores?

Pop-Ups and Revolving Displays

"Pop-ups" as they were dubbed by Trendwatching as early as 2004, are retail venues that "arrive unannounced, quickly draw in the crowds, and then disappear or morph into something else, adding to retail the fresh feel, exclusivity and surprise that galleries (...) and theaters have been using for years."

The pop up theme continues to spread, both as multimedia "store-within-a-store" installations for new products, such as the X-box Kinect showcases that invaded malls this year, or as stand-alone structures that temporarily colonize vacant or transitional spaces in the city fabric before disappearing or being replaced by more permanent build-outs. Vacant, an retail concept and experimental exhibition store that opens for one month only in empty spaces in major cities, showcases a range of one-off, hard to find and strictly limited edition products from established brands and emerging designers. Limited quantities are available, and not all products on display can be purchased.

How can temporary installations and events be used to drive innovative retail experiences?

Providing Complete Solutions

IKEA focuses on "solution areas" with complete ensembles for bedroom, kitchen, etc. rather than organizing their stores by product type. This helps shoppers better envision how the products will look in a more realistic context, and helps the IKEA to cross-sell related items.

IKEA further builds upon its DIY brand culture with their mobile augmented reality (AR) app, the Portable Interior Planner, which helps users visualize how IKEA products will look in their home. Selected items are superimposed in correct size and perspective over the camera's live image, giving a remarkably easy way of making sure that your purchase will fit in your home (and look good).

How can retail stores design for life experience?

Bridging Online and Physical Retail

Facing stiff competition from online booksellers as well as market shift towards electronic books, Barnes and Noble Bookstores leveraged its vast publishing and distribution rights to create an online store selling digital versions of the books in their store. They also developed an e-book reader-the Nook-that provided customers with exclusive access to the online store. Unlike Amazon, who had implemented a similar model with their Kindle e-reader and online store, Barnes and Noble's was able to offer a unique value proposition in the integration of their online store, e-reader device, and popular bricks and mortar stores into a cohesive and complementary ecosystem. Benefits to consumers include being able to use their Nook to read any e-book for free while in the physical store, hands-on education and tech support for the Nook and online store, as well as access to exclusive promotions and discounts on food and drink.

How can changing relationships between online and physical shopping guide better consumer experiences?

Retail Consumer Touchpoints