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Lifestyle Sells, Smart Spaces and Other Lessons from London’s Retail Design Expo

From L-R: Chloe Muir and Kseniya Sharin at this year’s Retail Design Expo. Image © Gensler.

As retail designers, it’s fundamental to take a holistic approach to creating a carefully curated retail experience that embodies cultural trends, consumer behavior and aesthetics. This was a recurring theme of the Retail Design Expo at Kensington Olympia, London, which included an influx of talks, seminars and vendors exhibiting the latest in retail materials and digital components.

Here are the four key ideas we took away from the day:

  1. Lifestyle Sells

    The landscape of shopping has evolved into a multisensory playground; a place for the consumer to live, nourish, work and even sleep. The trend for the retail environment to offer more than shopping brings with it a new perspective that is translated into active, meaningful and multifunctional space design.

    From art galleries in pop-up shops to yoga classes in Selfridges, retailers are understanding the value of offering their customers a full lifestyle service and a shift to edutainment, with Style Psychology reporting that “48% of brand attachment is directly related to brand experience.”

    Many of the talks and seminars were focused on this theme of hybridization, where retail becomes the anchor point for a full lifestyle experience. The lines are being more and more blurred with generation shifts and the importance of the ‘what I want, when I want attitude’ nature not only in the retail sector, but all areas of life.

    Our favourite talks included those from Katie Baron, Head of Retail at Stylus, who spoke about smart stores and active flagships, and Howard Sullivan with Cassie Isherwood from YourStudio, who talked about the extended brand experience.

  2. Uncle Rocco’s Barber Shop in Melbourne is an example of a brand that speaks to that lifestyle and creates a sense of ‘tribe.’ Source: www.theweeklyreview.com.au.

  3. Smart Spaces, Smart Design

    Retailers are looking for technology to become a seamless integration of the physical store, where it is seen as another part of the experience toolkit, rather than as an add-on. Bricks-and-mortar retailers are becoming smarter, with shops like Forever 21 taking their customers’ Instagram images and showing them in store through curated reels--embracing the idea of taking the digital and placing it into the physical world. In line with this example, Style Psychology reports that brand memory increases with each individual sensory representation. IPad’s are being used less and less in stores in favour of consumers using their own smartphones and, as Howard Sullivan from YourStudio described, it is ‘‘magic at your fingertips that adds a purpose.’”

  4. One of the exhibits at the London Retail Design Expo. Image © Gensler.

  5. Personal Curation

    Personally curated communications form part of the extended lifestyle experience. Giving customers the opportunity to virtual merchandise their own shopping experience takes retailers a step further in their goal to create a beta era store design and fully engage the customer.

    An example of brands doing this well is H&M’s catwalk experience, where the retailer engages customers by walking an outfit on their runway for it to be later screened in store. Samsung has also achieved this through their hyperactive 837 flagship, where the customer’s Instagram feed becomes a live curated communication in a special ‘VR Tunnel.’

    These examples are successful ways in which brands have created store led, but digitally fuelled experiences where spaces are responsive to the experimental customer of today.

  6. Samsung Flagship Store – Instagram feed in VR Tunnel. Source: www.engadget.com.

  7. Immersive Exhibits, and Interactive Elements

    A number of exhibitors showcased ecological materials and products, with our favourites coming from EcoTop’s stand, with their beautiful hand painted wall panels and furniture, and Bright Goods perfectly on trend LED filament lightbulbs.

    Several perfectly curated stands from design agencies and vendors incorporated interactive elements, allowing visitors to engage with the exhibition. RPA Group had us fully immersed and engaged with a large wall of takeaway retail facts and statistics, in collaboration with Style Psychology. TRO Retail engaged us through digital and sensory interaction and face recognition. This method of interaction is used to process consumer interactions and gather data in order to establish the most successful elements of the retail experience.

One of the exhibits at the London Retail Design Expo. Image © Gensler.

Providing a seamless, integrated experience

As designers, we are no longer designing just a good-looking space, but a space that allows people to live, breathe and sleep the brand. The key is the seamless crossover from the digital experience and physical store and vice versa, as well as engaging shoppers with brands to form more committed relationships with their target customers. The most successful stands were the interactive ones, whether through digital, sensory or physical interaction. Our ‘Best in Show’ awards would go to Harlequin, Tait, Tro Retail and The RPA Group.

The London Retail Design Expo reinforced the cultural trends we have been experiencing and reading about. With today’s hyper informed consumers, the purpose of design needs to be extended. As designers, we are being challenged to provide integrated solutions that make content personal and make people the star of their own shows.

Chloe Muir is an interior designer in Gensler’s London office, focused on all aspects of retail design and the design process. Chloe is passionate about trend forecasting within retail. She applies this knowledge to deliver and inform aspirational and insightful design and create engaging, inspiring spaces. Contact her at Chloe_Muir@gensler.com.
Kseniya Sharin is a lifestyle strategist in Gensler’s London office who collaborates with her clients and teams to design environments that facilitate enriching experiences. Fueled by a curiosity to understand human behaviour and cultural trends, she is intrigued by the intersection of design, research and consumer needs and the roles they place in creating meaningful spaces. Contact her at Kseniya_Sharin@gensler.com.
Zeinab Hashim is an interior designer in Gensler’s London office. Focused on creating holistic design experiences, Zeinab designs user centered spaces, embracing the dichotomy of micro design details along with macro brand strategy and current retail trends. Contact her at Zeinab_Hashim@gensler.com.

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