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The Art & Science of Shopping: Shopping the Seven Seas

View looking forward on the Royal Promenade.

Part of my client roster is Royal Caribbean International, and I had the privilege (and I mean privilege) to work as their retail design consultant on what at the time had been deemed “Project Genesis” for the onboard shops. This was my first foray into cruise ship retail, and it reminds me of an expression a friend always used to say, “If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.”

“Project Genesis” gave birth to the world’s largest guest cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, as well as her sister ship, Allure of the Seas. These floating cities have some truly amazing stats:  they are over 1,100 feet long and measure 220,000 gross tons, and, my personal favorite, contain the first COACH stores at sea. My family and friends heard much about these ships as the project evolved, and as I rambled on about the cool things that were going to be part of this new cruising experience. 

When the day came for Allure to actually take on guests, we all started talking about taking a vacation. So on a snowy evening in February 2010, my friends and I booked our staterooms on Allure of the Seas—which was still under construction at the shipyard in Finland and seeing more snow than we were—for a trip in the Eastern Caribbean in July 2011. At the time, it seemed like the trip was so far away, and now that it is over, it seems like it happened a million years ago. Typical.

What wasn’t typical was the ship. Serious cruisers, and those that have gone on these two ships, know what I’m talking about. Since I like to focus on retail (occupational hazard), I’m going to skip all the stuff you can find on their website and go straight to the heart of the matter: onboard retail.

The Shop features RCI branded products as well as itinerary based offerings. (©Patricia Parinejad)

I suppose I had the upper hand here, as I possibly know the shops on the Allure better than the ship’s retail store manager (having crawled around the plans and design details for the better part of two years). Needless to say, I got on the ship and felt like I owned the place. Unfortunately the shops must be closed while in port, so we all had to wait until the ship was out to sea before they opened.

What is it about vacations that give us this license to spend? That first night I tried to limit the damage, knowing I’d be on board for a week and three of the seven were sea days (which means – you guessed it – unlimited shopping time). So I just did the basic reconnaissance, scoped out a few things for future consideration, and focused on the much needed R & R that I was there for. Besides, we were stopping at St. Thomas & St. Maarten – infamous for being the fine jewelry shopping capitals of the world – best to wait and pace myself. That was Sunday (Day 1).

Port Merchants is home to duty free liquor, both main stream and luxury, as well as tobacco products.

Then Monday came, and the Cruise Compass, the ship’s daily paper and best source of information for all on board activities, reported that the jewelry shop Regalia was hosting a trunk show later in the afternoon and, of course, discounts were involved. So after baking in the sun for a few hours, I made my way down to Regalia to see what was on the menu.

Here’s how purchases usually happens with me: a simple conversation, a personal engagement, and a sales engagement that’s helpful but not pushy and totally accommodating. It was no different at Regalia. To quote Renee Zellwegger’s character in Jerry Maguire, the salesman had me at hello. Needless to say, I walked out of that shop with a beautiful new bauble to wear with my long black gown to the Captain’s Dinner that evening. If you read my last blog post, you’re probably starting to see a pattern here.

This was a bizarre test for me, as usually I try to discern the nature versus nurture that prompts us to buy. Now, this is my own brand of retail Darwinism, where nature is environment (design) and nurture is customer service. Theoretically I had the advantage here – I authored the design, helped create this environment – so that part of the equation is off the table as I should be immune to its charms.

Regalia is replete with fine jewelry and luxury watches. (©Patricia Parinejad)

So again, I come to the conclusion that it’s all about customer service. The environment, if alluring enough, will get customers in the door. But once the design has done its job, the customer must find enticing product(s) there, calling to them to buy. And lastly, that special breed of our species, the truly gifted salesperson, pushes them over the edge by engaging, relating, and finally, persuading.

Before I close, a quick word to retailers about product. I mention this because the bauble I purchased was actually part of a trunk show, and not part of the regular offering. Be the curator. I’m tired, I’m busy, even on vacation I never have enough time. You’re the expert, you know what’s out there – I don’t want to see all of it. I want you to pick the best of all the stuff that’s out there, and present a carefully edited selection for my perusal. That’s it. Simple, right? But it’s amazing just how many retailers don’t get it. More is just more. Have a tone of voice, consistent with your brand, and curate product based on that philosophy. It’ll be a winner, I guarantee it.

Candy Beach satisfies your sweet tooth at sea. (Photo on the left ©Patricia Parinejad)

Solera features passenger’s favorite premium cosmetics & fragrance brands in a sleek modern environment. (©Patricia Parinejad)

Pinwheels offers the perfect souvenir for the grandchildren! (Photo on left ©Patricia Parinejad)

Kathleen Jordan
Kathleen Jordan is a principal in Gensler’s New York office, and a leader of our retail practice with over 24 years of experience across the United States and internationally. Kathleen has led a broad range of retail design projects as both an outside consultant and as an in-house designer. She has led projects from merchandising and design development all the way through construction documentation and administration, and many of her projects have earned national and international design awards. Contact her at kathleen_jordan@gensler.com.

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