How Can Design and Experience Save Retail Stores?

You might be surprised by this, but the days of shopping in stores are long from over-, in fact, they’re experiencing a renaissance, and are creating a whole new type of design and experience to bring consumers back through the doors. The rise of e-commerce and the pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have served as a perfect catalyst for creating a whole new type of experience through unique design features, technological advancements, and customization that will revitalize physical stores in the future.

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Freshly Store by CuldeSac in Barcelona. Image © David Zarzoso

People around the world experience the ease of ordering whatever they want at a click of a button from the comfort of their own homes. But data shows that more than 88% of items added to carts for checkout are abandoned, meaning that there is significant hesitation towards buying everything online. Shopping in person, and getting to see, touch, and smell the items you want to buy is something that technology is still a long way from replacing- and architects and interior designers know this. They’re taking on the challenge of leveraging data and design to bring one of a kind, unique stores that will draw you in to spend money, in a time where retail needs to find ways to be more competitive and more cutting edge. Shopping of the future will be more stimulating than ever. It’s not just about the bottom line of sales but will be emphasized as a social experience where you’re interested in more than just the items on the shelves.

Most retail stores are traditionally designed in a roll-out fashion, with one design being duplicated across multiple sites which results in cost-efficient construction, but repetitive design experiences. In moving away from this trend, architects are creating stores that are one-of-a-kind and unique in their designs. 

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Saks 5th Avenue Flagship Escalator by OMA, NYC. Image © Justin Bridges

OMA recently completed the design of an iridescent glass escalator for Sak’s Fifth Avenue Flagship in New York City. Not only does the escalator connect the floors, but it creates a diamond-shaped atrium, and the dicrotic film over the glass changes colors from every angle, giving shoppers a completely different view depending on where they stand. What was once a mundane means of moving about the store became a focal point, and helped transform a store into a retail destination. Fuksas accomplished a similar feat, in their design of the Armani store on 5th avenue, by creating a unique curving staircase that takes shoppers between floors and up to the Armani restaurant.

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Armani Store on 5th Avenue, NYC. Image Courtesy of Massimiliano & Doriana Fuksas

But beyond escalators and stairs, technology is being integrated into our everyday shopping experiences as well. Instead of competing with the tech that keeps shoppers at home, designers are using it as a way to bring people in. CallisonRTKL’s Watches of Switzerland Flagship in London is the pinnacle of experience design combined with a world-class branding experience. It features three retail experiences in one- appealing to watch enthusiasts, connoisseurs, and collectors. The large digital tough screens let customers explore the history of watch brands while also selecting their own timepieces. The entire store can also be converted into an events space, serving a completely different purpose to bring in guests who might not visit the store otherwise. Even going back to the basic design elements themselves, retailers of all scales are devising unique schemes to make their stores stand out from their competitors, bringing a fresh new look to retail so that every store has its own unique identity from place to place.

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Watches of Switzerland Store in London. Image Courtesy of CallisonRTKL

The next time you add something to your cart, maybe it’s worth checking out your local store and seeing if they’re considering their designs as a way to bring you back. There is no virtual experience that can replace the feeling of holding a product you love in your hands, and soon your physical environment will not only reflect this but enhance that overall experience.

We invite you to check out ArchDaily's coverage related to COVID-19, read our tips and articles on Productivity When Working from Home and learn about technical recommendations for Healthy Design in your future projects. Also, remember to review the latest advice and information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.

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Cite: Kaley Overstreet. "How Can Design and Experience Save Retail Stores?" 12 Feb 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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