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Trending Physically

By Surender Gnanaolivu | October 03, 2017

With a majority of the millennials preferring to shop in physical stores most of the time, brands are focussing in delivering memorable experiences at their physical touch points. Design Thinking trends have realigned to enable the physical store to define brands they represent by offering experiences that address human, social and personal needs of their core customers.

Traditionally, a brand is defined as a ‘mnemonic or an identity of a product and its services’. Today this has been redefined as ‘being essentially a container for a customer’s 360 degree experience with the company’s proposition’. Multiple studies on the behaviour of new-age connected customer has revealed that more than 90% purchases are still made in stores, 98% of Gen Z shop instore with 67% saying that they shop instore ‘most of the time’, 50% want to buy online and pick-up instore and 38% of Millennials shop once a week in a shopping center. This clearly reveals the high importance of the physical store in defining what the brand stands for and hence has taken the role of being the ‘Physical Brand’. My study of the different stakeholders in global markets on current Retail Design Thinking clearly makes three trends to clearly stand out. Let’s take a look at each of them illustrated through successful environment design strategies conceptualized by differentiated global brands.

Humanization: The trend of ‘Humanizing store design’ is a route taken by many evolved brands globally to connect emotionally with their customers by demonstrating that their business purposes are more than just being about selling their products and services. The focus is clearly on delivering experiences that are meaningful and memorable for their customers. One key route of humanizing a store is the use of ‘Sensory Branding’ where the five human senses, Sight, Hearing, Touch, Taste and Smell, to define a complete brand experience. An important point to note is that, the latter three are possible only in a physical store! British brand Lush has revitalized its store concept using a powerful humanized store design strategy of ‘touch, smell and play’ in its largest flagship store located on Oxford Street in London. The store front greets visitors with an oversized sink with a beauty consultant stirring up some fragrant foam using their famous ‘bath bombs’.

The brand’s mission is to reinvent the bathing experience, reimagine classic cosmetics and fill the world with perfume and this has been brought to life in their physical brand. The store interiors feature fabulous presentation of rainbow-colored soaps, giant bottles of shower creams and tubes of bold-hued lipstick. A music station offers curated relaxing music to add to the overall brand experience. Strategically placed inviting tables, salon chairs and mid-floor treatment stations encourage customers to physically experience the products and creatively define their physical brand with great differentiation and panache.

Socialization: The trend of ‘Socializing’ comes from the human nature of being a social animal. Brands have realized that the connected customer tends to be part of like-minded social groups, real or virtual, and enjoys sharing information and interests. This is seen to be more meaningful and credible in the physical world and store design thinking has picked this up to add serious efforts to add elements of ‘socialization’ to store environments where physical brands can be more that sellers of products. Canadian Lululemon’s new flagship in London extends far beyond the athleisure offerings it sells, to offer fitness, nutrition and mindfulness in its store experience. The store environment design offers an experiential space where like-minded folks can stretch, sweat, connect and enjoy the latest collections in a space that enables them to escape from the buzz of the city. The community space “curated to create a relaxed atmosphere and sense of belonging” provides free classes in yoga, balanced health, nutrition etc. where the lululemon ‘community’ congregates to share and socialize. The socialized store has a huge like-minded fan following that have developed a strong bond with this physical brand.

Privacization: Thanks to the ecommerce age, the use of personal data and predictive analytics by social media and retailers has made the need for privacy much bigger than ever before. This has inducted in the store design thinking the element of ‘Privacization’ where the physical brand engages with utmost sensitivity and respect to their customers’ privacy. Interactive screen used to make personal choices have become conveniently smaller and conducive to personal interaction in contrast to giant screen that allow a passers-by audience to see personal choice making. Probably this is the reason magic mirrors and large public interactive screens have become unpopular and are now being used for special effects featuring curated video content to add theatrics to the physical brand environment. Indian acquired brand Jaguar Land Rover store demonstrates the successful use of this trend in tis new concept stores. A service table in the center of the store enables customer to use an intelligent programme called Rockar to make informed financial and technical decisions privately when deciding to buy a car. Swatches and samples of paint finishes and upholstery are displayed to complete the decision-making process. Lectern mounted screens help communicate specifications of the key models displayed in the store and large screens feature brand communication that promote what the brand stands for -‘putting people at the heart of everything we do is not a definition it’s our obsession’. Once the customer decides on the model, they are led to the mall parking lot to test drive the car.

With these new trends being imbibed in the design of retail environments of today the success of the Physical Brand is there to stay for the long haul. Though digitization of services and consumer engagement is on the rise, the use of element of the Physical brand – Humanization, Socialization and Privacization are becoming a key criteria for brands to acquire and retail customers at their brand touch points.

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