As someone who has spent five decades as a retail store designer – my “real job”, I can attest that this is more of a science than an art. And at a time when unified commerce is changing the very nature of what the store should be, the design of “brand environments” has never played such an important role in the purchase journey.
In my own retail design practice, we understood that our livelihood depended on creating a solid return on your customer’s investment. This role of linking “design and bottom line” was much more objective than subjective.
Leading brands have long understood that great design is a brand differentiator, ensuring higher product margins and driving brand passion. The importance that Apple
Commercial Design Institute 50and International Design Competition
The Retail Design Institute, founded in 1961, is recognized as one of the world’s elite retail-focused professional organizations. Its members include architects, graphic designers, lighting designers, interior designers, store planners, visual merchandisers, resource designers, brand strategists, educators, business partners, media and students of design.
In October, the Retail Design Institute named twenty-five finalists in its 50th annual design competition. They make up RDI’s “Class of 2020”, for retail projects open between January 1 and December 31, 2020. This year’s competition attracted submissions from sixty-two retail teams from around the world, culminating in the selection by the judges of twenty-five finalists.
As a former longtime member of RDI and judge of one of the last magazine contests of the year, I can tell you that this is an intense concert and the winners deserve praise. Of the twenty-five projects recognized last year, I have chosen to share my thoughts on four projects that encompass a cross section of store types and sizes.
And the winner is!
CallisonRTKL designers have created a stunning, experiential New York store for mattress manufacturer Tempur-Pedic. Paul Condor, director of RTKL, presented his challenge (rhetorically) by asking “How do you create a relaxing yet natural experience in one of Manhattan’s busiest areas?”
Their approach was to create a series of “pods” resembling experiential chambers. By combining high-resolution, changing video images of the exterior, in small bedroom-like vignettes, they manage to create a sense of comfort and serenity by fusing virtual technology with the built environment.
These settings welcome the visitor as if entering a warm cabin scene, creating a sense of serenity. As the client enters, the scene changes from a beautiful beach to an evening sunset, and finally throws clouds overhead. RTKL team member Laura Lewi called the concept “blurring the lines between hospitality and retail”.
The store layout guides the shopper through the discovery process. It balances the intellectual and emotional components of selling and recognizes that many customers prefer “guided self-discovery” which can ultimately lead to “assisted discovery”. They also set up the showroom to showcase not only Tempur-Pedic brand products, but furniture from neighborhood retailers as well.
Walmart digitally integrated
In September 2020, when Walmart Chief Customer Officer Janey Whiteside was interviewed about the design of Walmart’s newly “reimagined” retail store, she noted that her team was “working hard to make it easy for customers to switch between their physical in-store experiences and their digital journeys.” It’s part of the new “unified commerce” retail narrative that became one of the main themes of the National Retail Federation’s 2022 “Big Show” which just wrapped up last week.
Walmart’s design was planned before the pandemic and one of the goals was to save shoppers time. Since the digital shopper holds the tools in their hand, to make the customer experience more efficient, Walmart, along with FITCH (now Landor & Fitch), partnered to design a concept store that integrates with Walmart apps “item finder”. for its 186,000 square feet. Springdale AR “prototype” store.
A solid and clean navigation system makes the shopping experience more intuitive. It incorporates directories, end waypoints and a clear and consistently placed aisle numbering system. The addition of directional arrows and more frequent signage directs customers to their destinations.
The system, which mirrors that of an airport navigation system, complements the more open and minimalist approach to merchandising, which reduces clutter and prevents customers from being “overwhelmed with products”, while maintaining the Walmart’s distinctive look and color palette. Regarding the store rollout, an email from Walmart said: “We will continue to test, learn and make changes based on what our customers tell us. In doing so, we will quickly adjust and deliver an even better and more engaging experience in 2022 and beyond.
From Big Box to Little High
Even in retail, big things can happen in small packages. This is the case with perhaps the smallest of this year’s entrants, Sweet Seven Cannabis Co. of Waterloo, Ontario. The store’s simple, elegant and almost ethereal aesthetic is welcoming, while the immediately intuitive layout allows visitors to feel comfortable with their surroundings, even if they are new to them. to the category.
Toronto-based dkstudio architects have designed a very compelling layout using a series of seven concave product modules that promote relaxed, unrushed discovery. Simple and elegant curved transparent panels create an elegant backdrop for “floating” product shelves. They feature well-spaced products and simple signage.
As is the case with any well-developed brand environment, no articles appear after the fact. The store’s product display, lighting, signage and color palette all work in sync, creating a very unified brand statement.
I’ve written extensively about social commerce moving retail into the realm of media. The consequence is that stores, conversely, must become media extensions. This is the case of the AT&T Experience store in Dallas, Texas. The store is part of the multi-block AT&T Discovery District, a new destination that combines technology, culture and entertainment in the heart of downtown Dallas. The Gensler-designed $100 million project opened in June 2021.
AT&T’s creative innovation team, assisted by Gensler, merged AT&T products with Warner Media and developed a 5,000 square foot highly experiential store dedicated to 75% experience and 25% retail. This type of flagship store is intended to have a strong brand halo effect. As such, there will be products that are exclusive to the store and not found in other AT&T stores. Product screens display content adjacent to displayed devices, via custom interactive digital media.
Since one of the key elements of a “brand lab” like this is the ability to change, the walls and tables, built into the power sources, were all designed to bend and move. to accommodate a reset. This keeps the experience fresh and attracts visitors.
Since the store opened, it has been reset more than ten times. Some of the evolving experiences have included “Dream in Black”, “Big Bang Theory”, and “Experience Friends”. The latter being a full set of “Central Perk” from the iconic TV show we’ve lived with for a decade, and some of us relived almost every night.