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Retail Forecast: Value from Experience

The Retail Forecast blog series is an exercise in prognostication. Gensler’s retail designers from across the country explain the trends currently affecting how people shop and predict how these trends will play out in the near future.

There was a time in the not so distant past when retailers could lure customers to their stores just by offering good deals. Fifty percent off, buy-one-get-one-free, free shipping. These were some of the enticements retailers used to get bring customers to the store.

The day of the deal, however, has ended. It’s a relic from a past era of shopping. That’s not to say commodity retailers like Walmart and CVS are going out of fashion. On the contrary, these companies fill a specific market niche, and demand for stores featuring a slew of well-priced goods and services under one roof will not abate in the near future (it may grow). But specialty retailers, as well as commodity retailers hoping to take existing market share away from established competitors, can no longer rely solely on deals to drive consumer loyalty. They need to differentiate themselves through compelling in-store experiences.

Customers today refuse to let the promise of a little extra savings bait them to switch brands. Instead, they are demanding unique in-store experiences based on fun, excitement and (surprise, surprise) a bit of a challenge. When customers enter a brick-and-mortar retail outfit, they want to feel like they are on a treasure hunt. They may know what they are shopping for, but they want the process of finding it to be a process of discovery, filled with twists and turns and hints of the unexpected.

This might seem a bit counterintuitive since featuring products in a way that makes shopping as efficient and convenient as possible is something retailers have prided themselves on for years. But the advent of online shopping has shifted the retail industry’s entire relationship with convenience. Whenever customers want the best deals or the quickest access to products, they shop online; the Internet offers levels of convenience brick-and-mortar stores simply can’t compete with. Where the brick-and-mortar still reigns supreme is its ability to give customers the excitement that comes from a special experience, the knowledge that while shopping they might find something fun and unexpected.

Smart retailers have caught on to this shift and are now seeking to create differentiated experiences within their stores. They are focused understanding the emotions customers associate with their products and bringing these emotions to life through design. This shift has required retailers to reevaluate how their stores present their products and to rethink how their brand differs from those of their competitors. It’s an exciting time in retail design.

Dylan's Candy Bar in Miami Beach, Fl. Image © Gensler

Jill Wheeler is an architect who was bit by the retail bug about 15 years ago. The constantly evolving retail landscape has ensured there hasn’t been a dull moment since. Her passion is fueled by this dynamic change as she seeks the perfect retail alchemy. Contact her at jill_wheeler@gensler.com.

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