Speak Easy: Hospitality in the Retail Environment
Florent Duperrin and Chloe Muir in Hospitality, Retail, Retail trends

In today’s competitive shopping environment, retailers are taking cues from the Hospitality industry to bring consumers back into stores.

This blog piece is based on a Q&A discussion held with guest panellists Marco P. Nijhof Head of Hospitality Strategy at Value Retail, Paul Nulty Director of Nulty Lighting specialists in Retail Lighting, Camille Lorigo Creative Commercial Development at Brand Building and Gensler designers Owain Roberts, Lara Marrero and Claire Richmond.

Hospitality has been influencing the retail industry for quite some time now—perhaps more so than any other industry, as explored during our Speak Easy series on Hospitality’s influence on our many practice areas. But it’s important to understand that retail is still changing at an incredibly rapid rate. Consumers are expecting more from their shopping experiences and the main challenge for retailers is keeping up.

The demands of changing lifestyles have meant that people have less time to participate in shopping activities, and instead turn to online shopping over shopping on the High Street. Some could argue that the retail industry is under extreme pressure to bring the consumer back into the physical store, leading many retailers to ask themselves, “What else can we offer the consumer in this setting?”

Hospitality moments in retail have always been part of a shopping experience, but for a long time, it hasn’t been the main focus. Instead, retailers’ focus has been largely on products, with secondary considerations to in-store communications and interactions at the tills. This has led to an increase in mass production (ubiquity of product offerings) and larger retail spaces, which have created some issues in itself, such as a reduction in product quality and variety, as well as extortionate rental rates. Unfortunately, this trend has caused the quality of service also to suffer. As a result, retailers are going back to their roots, creating shopping environments and a service experience that's rewarding at all levels—looking to the Hospitality industry to provide cues on how to improve their own strategies. By looking for new opportunities through customer journey mapping, these new touchpoints for the consumer become chances to engage, connect and offer a boutique-like experience.

El Palacio de Hierro Flagship, Polanco. Photo © Paul Rivera.

Stemming from the French word for a small very stylish shop, the phrase “boutique hotel” originated in America in the 1980’s, to describe a small hotel offering an intimate, exclusive experience. The rise of the boutique hotel is the prime example of adopting strategies from other industries, in this case, Retail, to attract and engage the customer, boost the experience and create a space that manifests its brand.

Through this enhanced customer journey, rather than focusing solely on the transaction, the customer will experience the brand and then promote it. Retailers should no longer seek to attract ‘customers’ or ‘consumers,’ but guests who experience their brand and become advocates. A successful way to create this immersion is through offering hospitality spots: breakout areas with soft seating, or Food & Beverage facilities that complement the brand identity. The shopping experience becomes more personal, making it something you want to repeat and share.

Some brands are already focused on developing these types of experiences: one expensive watch brand, in particular, held an exclusive dining experience within the store’s restaurant facilities. While enjoying an exclusive meal, guests were presented with a tray of watches to review, select and purchase. The purchaser is then left with a personalised multi-sensory experience that they will continue to associate with the brand and share with friends through word of mouth and their social online network.

We are also seeing the retail experience start before the consumer even arrives at the store. For example, for the newly opened Bicester Village Station, this means that the shopping experience starts the moment the guests arrive at London Marylebone station. The guest can now travel straight to Bicester Village boutiques, where they are greeted by a valet and other premium shopping services. In this instance, the retail experience becomes a destination, and the brand will be associated with this journey.

Value Retail, the brains behind Bicester Village, also see the value of sending their staff for training at the École hôtelière de Lausanne (regarded as the best hospitality school in the world!) where staff are taught to understand the nuances of guest’s behaviour. By encouraging staff to undertake this training, the guest comes to shop, yet the service experienced in the store is so heightened that it is likened to a five-star hotel.

Cadillac House. Photo: Eric Laignel.

Evolution is the key to success...

In the world of retail, new ideas arise every year. Consumers are demanding, the competition is voracious and the means of shopping available are diversified. Brands, products, stores, websites and shopping malls all have to work hard to retain a consumers’ attention. Retail spaces need to be adjustable and interchangeable to succeed, service models must be heightened, and the visual and sensory experiences must become more targeted. With brand loyalty now a thing of the past, consumers are moving more easily between brands—quality, diversity and creativity are now accessible to all.

The future of shopping is still bright. However, the consumers are divided on the benefit of shopping online over in store: Buying a dress from your bedroom with your laptop is not emotionally rewarding. When the product is delivered to you in a plastic bag at your door, you don’t feel a huge sense of excitement. The emotional attachment, experiences, and connections that shoppers are so desperately seeking in stores are definitely altered. Brands need to re-establish positive purchase experiences that translate into a story about their brand that can be shared and repeated.

The truth is, if your memories are filled with a series of lasting visual, sensorial and social brand experiences, you're more likely to come back for more.

Chloe Muir is a versatile and passionate designer, with an enthusiasm for all aspects of retail design and the design process. Since joining Gensler three years ago, Chloe has worked on a variety of retail and hospitality projects in the UK, Europe and the Middle East, including the concept design for Radley’s London store. Contact her at Chloe_Muir@gensler.com.
Florent Duperrin is an associate and interior designer in Gensler’s London office. He has worked with international clients on luxury hotels and retail environments in various countries, and believes that in design there is no beginning and no end to how much you can learn and share. Contact him at Florent_Duperrin@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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