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Six takeaways on the future of retail

Experts look at how next generation stores will speak to brands, woo customers, and use technology

By Margaux Jaffa, Vice President, VOA Associates (New York, New York)

In today’s technology-rich environment, how are retailers staying relevant, growing, and adapting? The answer is experiential retail. In order to compete and complement online shopping, retailers are creating stores that speak to their brand in three dimensions.

Earlier this spring I attended Experiential Shopping: More Than Just a Store, an SMPS retail panel hosted at Trunk Club’s offices at 300 Park Avenue. Covering the retail landscape on multiple levels, the panelists discussed changes in customer shopping behavior and how technology and online shopping influences store design and real estate. Jim Scarpone, Director of Business Development for Shawmut Construction, moderated the panel, which included Greg Tannor, Director, Retail Services at Cushman & Wakefield; Liza Lax Gordon, Senior Director of Sales at Trunk Club; Krissy Lipka, Visual Merchandising Manager at Cole Haan; and Jordan Claffey, Executive Vice President of Retail leasing at RFR.

Here are six aspects of the evolving retail experience the panelists discussed.

Technology and experiential shopping
Technology and mobility have created a new paradigm for retailers in which stores and online shopping represent a single strategy to reach customers. This omni-channel approach requires a unified brand presence and messaging across platforms making for seamless product launches and seasonal campaigns. Krissy Lipka from Cole Haan noted that Cole Haan’s website mimics store design. It switches inventory on the same day to keep consistent—and whatever is selling online is what gets moved to the front of the store. Online informs the brick-and-mortar presence and allows customers more flexibility on how and when they shop. “Retailers that started online such as Amazon, Warby Parker, and Birchbox are opening up brick-and-mortar stores while their online buzz is at its peak,” says Cushman & Wakefield’s Greg Tannor.

Showrooms and mobile check-out
Retailers are reducing their back-of-house, carrying reduced inventory, and increasing the size of the sales floor. In the case of the Samsung showroom store in New York’s Meatpacking District, they’re not selling anything at all. Visitors to the Samsung store can experience the brand three dimensionally, interact with new products and gadgets, engage with brand representatives, and then purchase product online. Not all retailers have converted to the showroom model but many are eliminating the cash register and cash wrap. In this new retail model, sales associates perform all necessary transactions from mobile devices or handheld card readers enabling them to interact more closely with the customers and eliminating the hassle of queuing up at the register. The iPad can serve other purposes as well, announcing the customer’s name or allowing them to browse a brochure while a stylist is pulling product.

Data
Online shopping creates a data-rich customer profile for retailers, providing information on an individual‘s shopping habits and preferences. Common geographical data such as zip codes can prove pivotal when it’s time to open a brick-and-mortar retail location. Today’s top retailers are utilizing this valuable customer data to come up with creative ways to reach and stay in touch with their customers. Trunk Club, a brand which connects customers with personal clothing stylists, keeps a CRM database on their clients to keep track of birthdays, upcoming trips, and other details. Trunk Club can follow up and help clients plan their wardrobe for upcoming events. And the relationship goes both ways; customers can reach out daily with a selfie for a quick outfit check: “Can I wear this together?” A stylist can respond “Try this instead.” A level of service dialed in to each customer’s comfort level exceeds what’s available in the typical retail experience and promotes brand loyalty.

Multi-purpose retail
Shedding square footage in pricey urban markets, retailers are combining retail store formats with office space. By planning spaces more efficiently and storing less product, retailers can support increased personnel, trade showrooms, and even cash flow partnerships like in-house cafes that help offset rent. Trunk Club offers “Starbucks style” workspace for customers in their bar/lounge for clients working before a stylist appointment. Liza Lax Gordon from Trunk Club says “this makes clients feel as if it’s their space. With its living room style seating, one might forget it’s a store.”

Keeping up
More flexible store designs allow retailers to shift product and merchandising displays quickly, and easily reconfigure for larger renovations. In a quickly changing marketplace, retailers typically do new fit-outs every 3-5 years to keep their brands feeling fresh and current. Refreshing sets the stage for new lines–Tiffany’s eyewear line, for example. Customers expect to see new things from retailers making introducing new lines more palatable. Retailers are always asking the question “How do you reinvent yourself?”

How can AEC firms get on the list?
Panelists agreed that previous work, reputation, an understanding of retail design in addition to a business relationships are the key factors to working in this experiential retail world. Great store design is all about touch, feel, and getting the right look for the brand. The most loyal customers connect with a retailer on an emotional level. The store environment is the perfect place to make that personal and sensory connection. When the architect aligns with the brand, magic happens.

Margaux is a vice president and business development director with VOA Associates in New York City. This blog was originally published by VOA Associates on March 15, 2016.

Stantec has signed a letter of intent to acquire VOA Associates. We anticipate the acquisition to close later this spring and look forward to having VOA’s talented practitioners join our team. 

Margaux Jaffa

Photo credit: Ashok Sinha

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