Article

VISUAL MERCHANDISING

Experiential Store Design

VISUAL MERCHANDISING

Experiential Store Design

Will e-commerce eventually render stores obsolete? Your own in-store actions may well determine the answer. Read on to learn how to embrace today’s new shopping cycle.

change is an inevitable part of the retail industry. But the relentless march of technology has pushed the rate of change exponentially—and the retail industry is evolving faster than ever before.

Therefore, the debate continues: Will e-commerce eventually render stores obsolete?

As with anywhere else in the retail world, balance is a critical component of success. Today, retailers must find a happy medium between brick-and-mortar and digital retailing. They will benefit from recognizing the new paradigm and modifying their existing models accordingly. But how?

It’s clear that technological advances are having a huge effect socially, impacting our daily lives and habits. The Internet has allowed consumers to engage with retailers at times and in places they never could before.

But even with the challenge of e-commerce and changing shopping patterns, stores remain the retailer’s most valuable asset. Why? Because, in the end, e-commerce and the physical store environment will become partners in the consumer’s new shopping paradigm.

A New World Order

The new shopping process may begin on the smartphone or computer. It continues to the physical environment, where relationships are created and the customer can learn about product through a tactile experience (feeling the material to determine the quality, trying on the frames).

An analogy can be drawn between current retail conditions and the advent of the window display. In the early department stores, window extravaganzas were the Internet of the day.

A well-conceived window presentation wasn’t necessarily trying to sell a particular evening gown on any given day, but rather trying to project a memorable and recognizable brand image. So customers who engage with the physical store after a smartphone connection may not buy that day, but a strategic connection has been made. Without the physical store experience, the sale may never occur.

The challenge facing retailers today is not technology, but rather their response to technology. The successful retailer will recognize the intrinsic relationship between brick-and-mortar and digital retailing. Technology must be seamlessly integrated into the physical store environment—the two are critical touchpoints in the new shopping cycle.

Embracing Technology

For example, while Warby Parker’s online presence is effective, this retailer’s in-store experience has played a vital role in its success. Its Lexington Avenue store in New York features a library, reading nooks, a reference desk for pickups and eye exam check-ins, and—a customer favorite—a photo booth for trying on frames.

With all this in play, the physical store forms a bond with the e-commerce consumer.

It’s clear that shopping is becoming desktop to doorstep. With consumers logging on to their devices to make purchases (or at least to make purchasing decisions), retailers must embrace a new shopping cycle by providing a continuous experience—bringing the best of online into the physical store.

While consumer/brand communication takes on many forms, the brick-and-mortar store remains the moment of truth, where consumers are immersed in an experiential environment that communicates the tangible attributes and nuances of the brand and product offerings.

Keep your customers coming back through experiential merchandising.

Deliver the Experience

5 tips for amping up your in-store presence to appeal to today’s new totally tech-savvy consumer

When designing a retail environment, we’re not merely designing a store, but rather an experience. When customers cross the threshold of your store, take them on a journey, tell them a story, and immerse them in your brand image.

The seamless integration of technology into your store environment should go beyond the mere positioning of high-definition monitors and floor-standing merchandise fixtures with accessible outlets and USB ports.

    OPEN A SELFIE STATION: Provide an Instagram moment through well-conceived visual presentations that encourage selfies and social sharing. Your patients will post images to hundreds of other potential customers.

    GET SMART: Bring smart mirrors into your store environment, allowing your customers to see themselves wearing a variety of products both digitally and physically.

    MESSAGE EFFECTIVELY: Strategically position shelf-talkers that communicate quality messages and product information. This will provide an interactive experience and points of engagement.

    GET FOCAL: Set up strategically positioned focal points or touchstones that engage the customer in dialogue. These focal points, with distinguishing elements such as graphics, special signage, fixtures, supporting props, head forms, and integrated technology, will drive customer traffic through the space, thereby maximizing merchandise exposure and customer interaction. Today’s retailers must not only provide new reasons for customers to enter their stores, but also provide points of engagement to keep them there. Retail’s most vital driver has been and will continue to be communication; the store is a tool of communication.

Understanding changing demographics is crucial to sales success—today’s consumer is totally wired and connected. Use this to your advantage. Customers will continue to communicate through multi-channel discourse. Make your physical store part of the conversation.

E.F.

—Eric Feigenbaum

The Chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at New York City-based LIM College, Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries. He is also the New York editor of VMSD magazine, and president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design. In 2012, Feigenbaum was awarded the visual merchandising industry’s highest honor, the coveted Markopoulos Award.