Retail Spaces

How technology and design innovations are elevating spatial experiences for customers: A look at retail spaces

Featured project: Giorgio Armani, New Delhi

How technology and design innovations are elevating spatial experiences for customers: A look at retail spaces

When the internet was first opened up to the public in the early 90s, it kicked off a brand new trend – e-commerce and online shopping. From books and video games to apparel and essentials, online stores were suddenly able to offer goods with no physical restrictions on stock and storage. As consumers became increasingly familiar with the convenience of buying things online, there were widespread predictions that malls and physical stores will lose popularity.

Fast forward 3 decades and brick-and-mortar stores have not gone anywhere. Despite the extensive adoption of online shopping, a vast majority of sales still occur in brick-and-mortar stores. What’s more, research predicts that in 2020, 80% of sales in the US will still take place in physical stores.1 However, that is not to say that physical stores have remained unchanged over the last 30 years. Customer needs are constantly evolving after all, and physical stores have learned to remain relevant by evolving to meet those needs.

Today, that change involves the move towards ‘phygital’. This refers to a shopping experience that gives customers the intimacy of physical stores along with the convenience of online shopping. It combines technology and design, with just the right level of physical interaction to offer shoppers the best of both worlds.

Let us look at how technology and design innovation are enabling brands to lean into the phygital shift, and how this impacts not only the retail stores but also how brands design their office spaces.

At the product interaction point

One of the main advantages of shopping online is the amount of information available to customers. From reviews and ratings to information about where the raw materials were sourced, buyers can access everything in a couple of clicks. But what if this information was made available at physical stores too?

The retailers at Burberry had the same idea. Their store products are tagged with RFID e-tags. Customers can simply hold an item in front of a ‘magic mirror’ to view details like sourcing, crafting process and styling suggestions. But why stop there? Think virtual fitting rooms where one can see exactly how a product will look like on them. Consider AR-powered mirrors for makeup and jewellery trials. Imagine 3D printing booths that can customise items based on a buyer’s exact specifications.

In order to drive such experiences, a retail space needs to have technology incorporated into the very core of its design. This involves more than just a screen on the wall – it needs to adopt a broader approach, involving beacon and Bluetooth technology to tailor experiences for each customer. It needs to extend to personal mobile devices and maybe even link back to social media, enabling shoppers to share images and get real-time feedback from friends. Retail start-ups like teamLab are already pioneering technological design innovations like virtual mannequins that automatically display an item when a shopper picks it up from the rack.

At the checkout point

Think of the most terrifying thing about shopping at a Black Friday sale, or heading to the stores before any major holiday. Chances are, you are thinking of the thronging crowds and the hours-long queues at the checkout counter.

New-age stores are evolving to address this, too. Imagine cart scanners that detect and bill the items in a shopper’s cart and biometric technology on phones that customers can use to process the payment with just a swipe.

Apart from convenience, this has another major design implication. With retailers not having to account for multiple checkout counters and long queues of customers, they can opt for stores with smaller floor space. Retail designers can make more efficient use of smaller spaces, while also enhancing sales experiences. The virtual mirrors and mannequins discussed above eliminate the need to stock display items in bulk, thereby cutting down store sizes even further.

Hointer, a Seattle clothing store for men has embraced this concept. They display only one of each item. Customers can choose a particular item, scan a QR code with their smartphone, and request the size needed. They can then head straight to the changing room, where a robot assistant delivers the item. If the buyer likes it, they can swipe their card right at the fitting room and complete the purchase.

At experience points

With endless potential for innovation and experimentation, this stage is where brick-and-mortar stores can really triumph over e-commerce sites. Today, shoppers don’t want to be merely sold to, they’d also like to be serenaded. In one survey, over 55% of participants registered interest in in-store experiences that entertain them.2

Physical stores have the scope to engage all 5 senses of a shopper; they can transform commercial spaces into social ones. In recent times, farmers’ markets in America have successfully demonstrated this. With coffee shops, street performers, baked food kiosks and of course, produce stalls, the humble markets have evolved into spaces that bring communities together. On the other side of the world, Alibaba is trying something similar with their HEMA supermarkets in Beijing. With their ‘eat as you shop’ concept, shoppers can choose their own produce, have them prepared by in-store chefs, and dine in right at the store.

The Nike store in Los Angeles offers ‘curb service’, which is like a drive-through for shoes ordered ahead through an app. A major bonus if such drive-through concepts catch on? It eliminates the need for extensive parking lots and saves the customer time. Nike’s West Hollywood store boasts of another interesting concept – the ‘Sneaker Bar’. This is a structure made of shoebox-like units, where people can order shoes, just the way they would order drinks at a trendy bar.

In contrast to the sporty on-the-go vibe of Nike, the retail space we helped design for Giorgio Armani in New Delhi, upholds the spirit of luxury and superior craftsmanship that the brand is known for. The store is done up in elegant, muted tones and is illuminated with a soft glow, thanks to the subtle recessed lighting. Special pieces from the range are displayed prominently in glass cases or under spotlight. There are all-to-wall mirrors, and comfy armchairs where one can sit and savour the shopping experience rather than rushing through it.

Such varied and interesting design concepts give the customer the choice to enjoy an immersive experience or make the shopping process as easy as pick-and-go. They help a brand reinvent its shopping experience and retailers stay one step ahead of the future.

And it’s not just retailers who are embracing the trend towards the phygital. As more and more retailers prove that the brick-and-mortar stores can be reinvented for an immersive shopping experience, B2B companies too, are redesigning their workspaces to include client meeting zones and customer experience zones as an extension of their offices.

If you are looking to create a unique spatial experience for your customers, or are interested to know how technological design innovations can help you keep your business space relevant, let’s talk about updating your space for the future.