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Experience Retail on a Global Scale: Playing with Format

Image © Gensler

In the aftermath of the global recession, retailers experimented with store design and customer services in an attempt to minimize operating costs and entice skittish customers to keep spending. They reduced the square footage of stores, tried mobile formats and added unprecedented in-store services. These additions paid dividends and changed how the industry thought about retail design and the customer journey.

What’s really fascinating, and more than a bit surprising, is that even though the economy has rebounded—consumer spending in the United States surged in March and consumer confidence has returned to pre-recession levels—retailers continue to play with new formats. Many of the trends spawned by the recession have become permanent fixtures in the retail landscape. And retailers are learning that implementing atypical store formats and tailoring the in-store journey to a customer base hungry for unique experiences can cultivate brand loyalty and allow their products to stand out in a progressively crowded retail market.

Small Footprint, Highly Curated

In the United States, newly opened stores are, on average, 25 percent smaller than existing ones. Considering the infinite purchasing selections available online, many retailers are opting for a more limited and curated selection for their brick and mortar locations. This approach caters to time constrained consumers who don’t have the luxury of spending long afternoons perusing collections.

Mobile Retail

Retailers have taken a cue from the street food movement. Retail trucks offer a unique setting and maintain brand excitement, and they allow retailers to test new markets with less risk. The most successful retail trucks push the limits of creativity and offer special services to customers.

For example, Levi’s Bike Shop’s temporary boutique offered free bike tune-ups (pad replacements, rewrapping handlebars, adding reflectors, inflating tires, fixing flats, etc.) and an on-site biking-gear-savvy tailor — all for free! Kate Spade x Darcel launched a new product line with a cross-country tour in a brightly colored truck topped with a giant pink donut. The truck featured products from the new collection, and offered visitors free mini-donuts for visiting.


Pop-up stores are another way retailers can test new markets and spaces without investing in a permanent spaces.

San Francisco International Airport features two retail spaces that serves as pop-up locations for local retailers, like McEvoy Ranch. Selected retailers can lease the space for up to a year. Indochino, an on-line custom clothing company for men with a Traveling Tailor program had a pop-up in New York’s Grand Central station. At Storenvy, customers get a different retail experience on a monthly basis. Located in downtown San Francisco, the Storenvy Pop-Up Shop features five local merchants every month for a one of a kind retail experience.

Brand Partnerships

When established global brands work hand-in-hand with local boutiques, the results tend to be beneficial for everyone, including consumers.

Target’s “The Shops at Target” featured items from different boutiques around the U.S. for a limited time within its stores. Uniqlo launched SPRZ NY, a new collection in partnership with nearby Museum of Modern Art. The collection has close to 200 items, all featuring work from artists like Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Sarah Morris. The clothing is displayed in frames and display cases, imitating the art one might see in a museum.

Image © Gensler

Retail as Lifestyle Spaces

The new retail environments offer more than products; they offer amenities and activities geared towards customers’ lifestyles. This helps engender brand loyalty. For example, every Lululemon store offers free yoga classes. They close down the store, throw down the mats and go to it.

In-Store Education

Forward-thinking brands offer learning opportunities to connect with their audience. Waitrose Cookery in London offers cooking classes in their store. PrAna’s tradeshow booth includes an area for the company’s cause partners to present their programs.


Established global brands can also work in conjunction to diversify how and where they offer their products. Samsung, the Korean electronics giant, is setting up mini Samsung stores inside several U.S. based Best Buy and Best Buy Mobile venues.

Barry Bourbon AIA, LEED® AP, is a leader of Gensler’s global retail practice and a principal in the San Francisco office. With a constant eye on the latest tools and technologies that connect consumers and retailers, Barry inspires colleagues to stay focused on the rapidly evolving issues facing clients, and to design for the holistic experience of a brand. Never one to shy from a challenge, Barry is an expert problem solver who excels at leading multi-location, multi-disciplinary teams with the tightest schedules and budgets. Contact him at barry_bourbon@gensler.com.

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