Comment: Stores of the future – designed for next generation shopping experience

Brands are increasingly realising they need to break ties with the status quo. What once might have constituted a satisfactory and convenient shopping experience no longer cuts it for today’s discerning shopper. Forget trying to differentiate on convenience, that’s a basic expectation for customers. Instead the real battleground for customer loyalty lies in creating environments where people enjoy spending time.

A new breed of stores gives trailblazer brands a chance to immerse customers in a world that’s entirely governed by them. A controlled environment where they can share relevant brand messaging and get people to experience their business exactly as they want them to. A playground for customers to live and engage with their brand.

Convenience vs captivation

Stores across most sectors have struggled to find a distinctive purpose in the digital age. Convenience was the initial fixation – finding ways to make shopping easier and faster. But convenience is just one of the many needs of today’s shoppers – and it’s often best served online. Increasingly, the domination of digital interactions is actually driving consumers to seek tangible, enjoyable, physical experiences instead, with more exciting, intense and social ways to get every ounce of value from their leisure time.

Truly smart stores need to offer leisurely jaunts that are as unique as their brand. Events that educate, rather than dictate. Inventories that are interactive and dazzling and not simply a wall of stationary products.

Nailing the experience

Roaming the high streets of London, three customer experiences stand out as worth learning from. Ahead of the game in providing shoppers with a time to be remembered when entering their doors, they’re carving out the right path for new retail.

Take Galeria Melissa. This flagship store in Covent Garden shows off the brightly coloured shoe range from Melissa, but this location is so much more than just a store. As the name suggests, it is more of a museum rather than a shoe shop. In addition to the shoes being displayed as a form of art, pop-up installations wow the visitors on site, such as the ‘Inflatable Dreams’ a collaboration inspired by Melissa and Jeremy Scott, transforming the entrance of the gallery into the world of Jeremy Scott, with large inflatables hanging from the ceiling, surrounded by LED screens. Not to mention the impromptu swimming pool downstairs flooded by plastic balls to emulate the water.

Visiting this store feels like a cultural experience, miles away from a usual shoe-searching hurdle.

Entering another galaxy

The Disney Store on the fourth floor of Harrods takes you instantly to another galaxy. Leaving London behind as you enter the store, you are immersed in a different world. Surrounded by digital screens displaying Star Wars videos and leather seats for a comfortable view, this place offers the ultimate Star Wars experience for fans in a unique destination. Visitors can become part of the Star Wars world as they can try on different uniforms by a digital screen at the entrance or with the use of advanced scanning technology, customers have the opportunity to transform themselves into unique Star Wars maquettes, including Stormtrooper, TIE Fighter Pilot or a Rebel Pilot.

Disney has done a brilliant job pulling their fans in and making them even more devoted than ever before.

Getting sucked in with Dyson

Dyson just opened a brand new physical store the other week on Oxford Street where visitors are encouraged not only to touch the technology, but to experience it. Dyson has realised that today, it’s the only way for people to understand the stark differences between their products and everything else on the market. The space gets people to delve into the technology behind one of the greatest inventor brands of our time. In the museum-like dust display, people can see how a Dyson vacuum processes 64 different types of dirt particles.

What’s still missing?

Where these stores still fall short is that they don’t provide a fully integrated, omnichannel experience. With people now expecting a continuous bond between them and the brands they spend time with, maximising online-offline moments with every touchpoint is a must.

Glamour in Paris

A great example of a brand that has put the omnichannel promise in the centre of their offering to make shopping fun again, is cosmetics giant, Sephora, with its Flash 3.0 concept store in Paris. By completely digitising the physical shopping experience – using the Connected Retail Platform, which enables smart screens, digital baskets and NFC-tagged purchases – consumers can explore and discover vast product ranges within a compact and tech-rich space and get the products delivered within the same day. Beyond its obvious convenience, the digital nature of the store makes the experience completely personalised.

Stores of the future

Like Sephora did so well in Paris, the next generation of store must harmonise physical and virtual retail experiences, strengthening the loyalty of customers who come into contact with them; building deeper, more consistent engagement between customer and brand, wherever they are located in the world. With shoppers undergoing a different customer journey – online, in-store and online again – retail environments need to deliver a value-driven spectacle. A leisure destination for consumers to spend time with the brand coupled with a place for product contextualization to take place, while still removing barriers to purchase.

Consumers want the moments and the buzz these experiences make possible. That’s what they need to find in-store, and that’s what retailers need to deliver.

By Rachel O'Rourke, Head of Brand, Start Group