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The Set List: Rapid Retail When time-strapped consumers want something, they want it straight away.

[©Tobias Zils] Whether in store of online how are retailers trying to keep up with the demands of their impatient customers.

Editor’s note: this blog is the eleventh in a series discussing trends and insights into the world around us.

Many aspects of retailing are getting faster. Not only the speed to market of a new product (fast fashion, for example); or online fulfilment (such as experimentation with drone delivery), but also in the way we’re interacting with and experiencing the physical retail experience. As one of the earlier blogs in our series has identified, our busy lives are fostering the growth of concepts based on speed and convenience in a search for Instant Gratification.

We, consumers, are a fickle bunch. Sometimes we want to browse, be entertained and take our time romancing the product. Other times we know what we want and we want it straight away, without fuss. However, one size does not fit all and this grab-and-go mentality is no longer the sole concern of convenience stores and petrol stations.

Online’s influence on the physical retail experience can be seen across several interactions and touchpoints:

Rapid Customisation

Brands are responding to both our expectation of fast fulfilment and a desire for a bespoke or customised product. From in-store craftsmen monogramming luggage, to on-demand 3D printed products and the latest incarnation of this trend; Berlin optician Yun experimenting with in-store robots that make prescription lenses in 20 minutes, while customers wait.

Rapid Payment

Big moves are taking place in the way we pay in-store thanks to disruptive technology that smooths out what has always been a major pain point of a retail experience. A move towards biometric fingerprint and facial recognition is influencing the evolution of the cash desk to allow contactless payment approvals; Fashion retailers Rebecca Minkoff and Zara have both experimented with introducing self-service checkout, while the AmazonGo store prototype has removed cash desks all together.

Rapid Format

Formats based on size have long been a part of the retail landscape, but brands are now focusing on creating more distinct and service differentiated formats responding to location and customer behaviour. Starbucks Express for example, occupies compact spaces with a limited menu and fast self-ordering and payment systems. At the Luxury end of the spectrum, ‘micro-stores’; a format often seen at airports, offer a convenient, edited and specific collection that can be located strategically to target core customers rather than requiring them to travel to larger flagship locations.

Rapid Service

Human interaction is still valued, but in line with the intentions of an omnichannel future, time poor customers are expecting the immediacy and simplicity of online services to be there for them in store. Whether it’s a product review, suggestions of alternative items or discount privileges; ways of providing customers bespoke levels of information, advice and service in the offline experience is key.

So, what next for rapid retail? And how fast could it get? One thing is clear, we are now living in a time where retailers must provide an experience, not just sell a product. While rapid retail might necessitate a condensed or streamlined offer, the experience can’t be a diluted one. It needs to be a tangibly different one that can communicate a service or an expected behaviour intuitively.

Owain Roberts
Owain is the regional Retail Practice Area Leader and design director in Gensler’s London office. With a clear understanding that consumers see design as a single idea, not a series of separate elements, he encourages a seamless relationship between graphic design and environmental design to create complete retail experiences. His broad range of experience in environmental design covers both retail and commercial interiors and also branding exercises for high profile projects. Contact him at owain_roberts@gensler.com.