The Changing Face of Retail & Brand Experience

Consumer confidence is buoyant again, spending is up and even Marks & Spencer’s non-food is in profit. According to PWC, consumer spending growth will hold steady and grow by 1.8% over the coming months, in keeping with the post-crisis ‘new normal’ environment of weaker global economic performance.

The trend for creating a brand experience within a shop or department store is taking off from start-ups to big brands and the middle market is catching up. Where did the trend begin? Years ago, it was thought of as ‘bold’ for supermarkets to have in-store cafes, and now an average shopping trip for women can last a whole day with lunches and coffees. Apple created a brand experience out of the store environment by simply adding a ‘Genius Bar’, which implies just from the name that it will be a relaxing environment where you can ask the simplest question in safe surroundings. So a bar in a shop? Great idea.

Jigsaw’s Emporium (Duke Street, London) shook up retail in London by partnering with café brand ‘Fernandez & Wells’ who sell coffee and cakes to customers on the shop floor and Ted Baker have opened their own barbers. This ‘Grooming Room’ concept changes their market position into a lifestyle brand and Paul Smith has quickly followed suit by partnering with Sharps barbers. Research into male shopping patterns suggests that men ‘shop’ in a very practical way i.e. as quickly as possible. Therefore with this in mind; being able to have a haircut or clean shave whilst shopping is another great idea. How about shoe repairs for the next add-on service?

In New York, spectacle retailer Warby Parker has created a store experience, which is more ‘book shop’ than spectacles. As well as being exceedingly cool, it is incredibly stylish and homely than the typical opticians we’re so used to seeing on the high street.

Nike never fails to impress, you can run on a treadmill in the Fifth Avenue store or play football at Oxford Circus, London. This experiential element to the store instantly gets buy-in from customers. Try on some Nikes and go for a run, or just turn up at the store and run. The digital backdrop creates an exciting and very cool entrance space to the store.

Quiksilver Boardriders on the Gold Coast has just opened a live band venue, cafe and barbershop within their store. An all-encompassing lifestyle store for surfers! And homeware retailer Sheridan has an interactive scent bar for their new fragrance category expansion. High street brands are stepping up to the mark slowly.

New concept brand ‘Florrie’ specializing in bespoke dolls (to open in Melbourne) will have a cafe, party room, dress-up space and playful light up wall graphics to entice and delight their little customers.

What can we learn from these new retail brand expressions? As designers, we need to be able to excite and delight customers, create the right mood and bring to life a more holistic brand. Retailers need to push boundaries and give their designers more freedom to offer services and collaborations to show understanding of their customers I.e. satisfy more needs.

As Apple’s Angela Ahrends said in a recent interview, “I don’t want to be sold to when I walk into a store. Don’t sell! No! Because that’s a turn-off. Build an amazing brand experience, and then it will just naturally happen.”