FOCUS ON RETAIL DESIGN: STILL AN OPEN RESEARCH FIELD
The sector of retail that takes care of the design of the stores has become an essential element in the policies of sales and marketing of products in the last thirty years. However, there’s still a gap between real practice and academic study.
As noticed by H. Christiaans and R. A. Almendra [H. Christiaans and R. A. Almendra 2012] according to Quartier et al. [Quartier et al.2008], minimal research is conducted in real retail spaces as a whole and in the reactions of consumers to those spaces. Retail research has been traditionally undertaken by the marketing and management areas often leaving a gap in the design analysis. as a matter of fact, a lot of research and publications about retail design in the past stressed good practice and excellent case.
Retail Design is a core discipline of the interiors area, the privileged place for innovation and experimentation,yet academics have started to study it closely only in the last decade.
A decade in which the world of consumers has changed significantly.
RETAIL AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES
The new technologies paved the way to the use of a number of intelligent and more innovative applications that are investing activities of a commercial nature (e.g., the famous case of the virtual fitting room experienced by Topshop in Moscow in 2011, which is nowadays very common in the stores worldwide).
In the last MAPIC issues (The leading International Retail Property Market in Europe set in Cannes in November), a large space was given to technological innovation ranging from pure technology for the retail (cash space , digital dressing …) to a broader concept of retail transformed from mere point of sale to a key point for multichannel retail .
Those innovations are clearly modifying not only the customers’ habits but also the design paths and standards.
Even though speakers touchscreen and self-service methods are well-established within the large-scale distribution, the use of new devices such as the smart phone payment systems today allows more rapid and innovative application of ICT like Sainsbury’s app called Mobile Scan & Go.
All the major IT brands are investing in research for retail’s technologies.
Giovanni Zoffoli, Marketing Enterprise Director of Microsoft Italia, underlines that the whole Windows world has been completely revolutionized in the last 2 years. The operating system now exists in the form of device; thus, rather than talking about functionality, – he says – I would speak of a high number of different devices which are complementary to one another. Perhaps the distinctive element of Microsoft compared to its current competitors on the market is the availability of Windows devices for use by both consumers as well as retailers. This combination (although not mandatory) leads to the possibility to combine the physical and digital environment by means of a comprehensive, native-like experience much easier and quicker than ever.
What does it means?
In my opinion, this clearly shows the necessity for an interactive design in retail. The shopping experience is nowadays made up of different applications that could converge towards a physical store.
There is a set of devices already available on the market and under release that allow the creation of interactive displays, interactive kiosks, smart mirrors, virtual assistants, observers income/expense of affluence and interest (inside and outside the store). As regards offer, Giovanni Zoffoli remarks that Microsoft basic infrastructure is the wide range of Windows products. But is it really true? the tools for natural interaction (NUI), the Kinect sensor, which upgrades Windows (formerly system natively touch-enabled) to “see” the movement in front of the sensor and to interact through voice and gesture is of great interest for me.
This application is changing the world of visual merchandising, especially the window design sector.
Since 2012, we have had the occasion to interact with something that was previously static as a window.
One of the first interactive windows, in this sense, was the one devised by Nike in cooperation with the Dutch Staat Creative Agency for the Selfridge’s department store in London on the occasion of the 2012 Olympic Games. Each display was a simple coloured design, with fixtures and merchandise moving in sync with the movement of people in the street.
Another interesting case is MarrionetteBot, a display realized in Japan with interactive dummies for United Arrows LTD, in February 2013. The project is still visible clicking on this link http://dislab.jp/works/marionettebot/ .
As remarked by Zoffoli, theabovementioned technologies and devices will allow us to achieve results such as low-cost augmented reality app, proximity marketing, interaction NUI, instant promotions, personalized experiences.
Technologies are also paving the way to new retail concepts. Let’s consider the case of Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc, for instance. It is an American retailer of teddy bears and other stuffed animals which exploited an interactive process to involve its customers in the assembly and customizatio of their stuffed animals during their visit to the store. In that way, they turned the purchase experience into a game for kids and adult as we can see on youtube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulqEO6qhS48. In cases like this, the question is: which is the role of the designer? Does technology come first or maybe design? I think that those are examples of good cooperation between technology and design experts. Technology allow us to make ideas come true, but they must be somewhat appealing. Therefore, design is still fundamental for the success of the project. However, designers must to be prepared to new rules and paradigms which not always found at academic level.
OMNI-CHANNEL OR MULTI-CHANNEL
In November 2013, the CBRE Global Investor published some research giving evidence of the fact that e-commerce is not an antagonist of traditional shops and that omni – channel retailers are the ones showing with the best results.
Nevertheless, during the meeting about “Cross-Canalità 2. Retail surf fra negozi e web” held on 12 June 2014, the Italian Kiki Lab – Ebeltolft Group underlined that omni-channel is not the right choice for every retailers: it could be such for big-scale shops but medium and small scale would rather opt for a multi-channel approach.
Multi-channel retail is something that has always existed. It’s not something new. It’s simply the choice of selling products on different places. In the past, a retailer could choose to sell on the square market, in its store, then more recently even in supermarkets, and so on. Today, we have just opened further channels through the Internet.
E-commerce shouldn’t be seen as an antagonist, but only as a new chance.
The major problem about being either omni-channel or simply multi-channel, in my opinion, lies in consistency.
Brands should convey the same message via all channels, each of which should be well design and give a brand design shopping experience. The physical store, for me, must be the channel in which everything is concentrated, this is why it should be designed so as to respond to this need. It has to be technologically advanced, appealing, and offer the customers the shopping experience they wish, virtual to physical.So much work is still to be done in this view, but good practices are already there, such as the one implemented by the department store Neiman Marcus, which used Pinterest to develop its market both online and off-line.
Shopping is a daily activity. We shop increasingly less for necessity and increasingly more for enjoyment. Is that so? (reference please) The stores we select to do it tend to become places of relationshipand self-assertion (we are what we buy and where we buy it). In the last years, we moved from an idea of conspicuous consumption as displayed in 1899 by Thorstein Veblen to a one of “Trading up” (consumers are willing to pay premiums on goods that are emotionally meaningful to them. The meaning of a good is reliant on an individual’s consumption values [M.J.Silverstein, N. Fiske, 2004] ). Retailers, then, started regarding shop interior design as an essential part of their business and invest a lot in it. Stores are regularly renewed in order to be competitive and appealing using the most innovative design and application, and that’s why they become the forefront of contemporary interior design [ Mesher L., 2010].
In the retail sector, in the last decade the new technologies became part of the design process although there is no clear insight intosuch phenomenon and the way it influenced our habits and perception as designers. I think that it is necessary to fill the gap.
Even though many brands are involved in experimenting new ways of retailing, as shown before, there are still very few academic studies about this subject which usuallyfocus on the marketing sector totally neglecting their impact on space design.
The academic question, still unanswered, is not to look at technology itself but to understand how it has influenced and changed the retail design process.
CBRE, Retailing Strategies for Today’s Omni-Channel World, 2013 http://www.cbre.com/EN/research/research-investment-review/market-dynamics/Pages/Retailing-Strategies-for-Todays-Omni-channel-World.aspx
Christiaans H. and Almendra R. A., Retail Design: a new discipline, International Design Conference – Design 2012, Dubrovnik – Croatia, May 21 – 24, 2012
DRS 2010 Montreal Conference Proceedings, edited by David Durling, Rabah Bousbaci, Lin-Lin Chen, Philippe Gauthier, Tiiu Poldma, Seymour Roworth-Stokes, Erik Stolterman, MONTREAL 7-9 JULY, ISBN 978-2-9811985-2-5, http://www.drs2010.umontreal.ca/data/DRS2010web.pdf
Mesher Lynne, Basics Interior Design 01: Retail Design, Fairchild Books AVA, 2010
Quartier, K., Retail design: lighting as a design tool for the retail environment, PhD Thesis, Hasselt University Belgium, 2011.
Quartier, K., Christiaans, H., Van Cleempoel, K., Retail design: lighting as an atmospheric tool, creating experiences which influence consumers’ mood and behaviour in commercial spaces in Design Research Society 2008 Conference, Sheffield, UK, 2008, pp. 216-230.
Quartier, K., Vanrie, J., Van Cleempoel, K., The interaction between interpreted space, mood and behavior in retail environments: a conceptual research model, in IASDR09 Conference, October 18-22, 2009, Seoul,Korea, 2009, pp. 3487-3496.
Silverstein M.J., Fiske N., Trading Up: la Rivoluzione del Lusso Accessibile, Milano, Etas., 2004
Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Dover Publications; Reprint edition (May 20, 1994)
Trevisan Michele, Pegoraro Massimo, Retail Design. Progettare la shopping experience, FrancoAngeli, Milano, 2007