We hear so much about the store of the future and the predictions for what will make up this futuristic concept that seemingly solves all of today’s retail troubles, all this while it meets and exceeds the needs of consumers. But, given the complexity of consumers today, is it realistic or even futuristic to think that one single concept will answer the needs and appeal to all? We think not. That’s like suggesting there’s one brand that will rule the world in twenty years. Truth is there’s room for so much more innovation and really the critical element of future store design innovations comes from looking at the consumer. Think about it for a minute. Amazon recently made a big splash in the news with the proposal of cashier-free store, and while many raved at the ease and convenience this might bring, the concept left some scratching their heads.
In terms of the store of the future, let’s also take a minute to think about mission based shopping trips. Do you have a single shopping style? Only online, never in-store. Always dining in, and never driving thru. Doubtful. Reality is that we look for different types of experiences that cater to our needs in the moment. Consider a store that doesn’t cater to two different “types” of consumers but instead the different need states of the consumer.
Recently Target announced plans to reimagine and reposition hundreds of their 1,800+ stores, and willing to invest a pretty penny to do it too—billions to be exact. Described as the most ambitious redesign to-date this new concept caters to two different need states “speed” and “inspiration.” Shoppers looking to get in and out can park in a dedicated 10-minute parking section, scan the grab-and-go grocery section, pickup an order placed online, and pay at the self-checkout. Those looking to browse with a little more time to spare can enter a separate entrance leading them to seasonal merchandise, exclusive brands, and fashion-oriented focals and home goods. Sounds like they’re taking steps to keep pace (both slow and fast) with today’s consumer.
Now, let’s also consider that anytime we hear the word store of the future, technology is not far behind in the conversation. It seems as though the future cannot exist without it. Let’s think about what “technology” means in terms of future innovation. It’s not necessarily a VR or AR headset showing you that latest fashion from a Paris runway or a smart mirror that can show you similar items, search product availability, or call an associate for help. Those elements on their own do not make a store. Instead, let’s consider a data enhanced experienced. Those that are tapping into available technologies to learn more about their consumer provide the ability to create customize experiences; that is what makes stores meaningful and purposeful.
Montreal based menswear brand Frank + Oak built their brick-and-mortar model from ecommerce analytics. The brand not only uses an advanced algorithm for product development, but also caters the in-store experience to consumer profiles through beacon technology.
Women’s fashion brand, Revolve, took a similar approach to the art and science of retail when they launched their multipurpose “Social Club” in LA. By appointment only shopping sessions, guests can explore a store entirely personalized just for them with merchandise selected based on past purchases.
While those brands might have found success on a smaller scale and a more intimate level, fast fashion brand Reformation has set out to prove that it can be done in a high-volume retail scenario too. With inspiration from Silicon Valley’s most innovative brands, founder Yael Aflalo set out to reconfigure the retail space. Understanding that 20% of styles drive 80% of business, Aflalo curated the space to amplify that 20% with touch-screen technology and digital monitors.
It’s hard not to talk about a data enhanced experience without giving recognition to online giant Amazon. With one of the largest com databases in the industry, it’d only make sense for the brand to leverage data to curate the in-store experience. The brand’s most recent retail chapter led to the launch of a bookstore in Lakeview Chicago. Based on customer reviews the assortment is not only tailored to Chicago area residents, but also focuses on best sellers and customer reviews.
Now, let’s take a step back for a minute and consider that maybe the conversation isn’t about the store of the future, but more about a retail adaptation and evolution. Creating a store environment that’s responsive… one that’s malleable. Think of the online world today, it’s fluid and ever changing. Consumers are continually engaging in new conversations with brands every day. How does the store environment reflect that fluidity of continual conversation and become alive? The in-store environment is three-dimensional; something that the online experience can’t easily replicate (outside of AR or VR) so how is it that online has the upper hand? Context! Store environments need to be contextually relevant.
Six years ago, NYC retail concept, Story broke onto the scene. It turned the traditional retail model upside down and brought with it an editorial story connecting consumers to products in a contextually relevant way. Every four to eight weeks, Story completely reinvents itself. From store design and merchandise assortment to the floor plan and fixtures, creating a three-dimensional experience with a new point of view.
In 2016 Mall of America launched a 2,500 sq. ft. pop-up inspired retail shop called Debut. The store features select local and international brands with a theme that changes every six months. The current theme in works is a “Shop for Kindness” comprised of 13 brands dedicated to a cause giving shoppers the chance to support the initiatives that mean the most to them.
Over the years other retail brands like Urban Outfitters have capitalized on the mix-unit, multi-purpose space to create a diversified offering that encourages repeat visits. The brand’s first foray into the shared space concept started with an urban LA warehouse environment, Space 15 Twenty, and since then setting up shop on the East Coast in the heart of Brooklyn’s Burg (Williamsburg). The eclectic marketplace showcases 40-plus local designers, a series of pop-up shops, a restaurant and bar with rooftop views and outdoor dining, giving shoppers a little bit of all things Brooklyn.
As retailers and designers alike continue to explore the future of retail and consumerism, the “Store of the Future” will remain an ever-evolving topic. The critical element at the core of the experience will always remain the consumer; balancing the needs of today and predictive needs of tomorrow.