A creative shift in retail design isn’t a new, post-Covid development. Serious changes were happening before the pandemic, which kicked the creativity and the need to stay relevant, up a gear. Long before Covid, retailers were lacking a certain originality having become too transactional, but in the years leading up to 2020, imaginative changes were already being made to re-engage consumers.
During the pandemic, hygienic transactions and one-way systems were the primary focus (not like we need reminding!), meaning experiential design took an obvious back seat. In the months since, we’ve opened our eyes to the need for brands to push the boundaries of creativity with store flexibility, experiential design and ‘phygital’ touch points, paving the way for a ‘New Retail’. This new era is opening endless opportunities for brands to challenge the strength of consumer loyalty and buyer experience, whether that be through virtual stores, sustainable store fixtures, or immersive spaces.
Something that’s prevalent in articles from 2020 and in recent months, is the need for stores to be agile and flexible.
In 2020, the changes that retail had to make to accommodate for the ever-changing rules, meant that flexibility both emotionally, to keep people safe, and operationally, to enable displays & POS to adapt with rules, was vital. Although now free of restrictions, brands must maintain flexible store displays to allow for events, showcasing new products & regularly updating store aesthetics to consistently re-engage consumers who have predominantly shopped online for the past two years.
Instead of making permanent bricks-and-mortar changes, the future of efficient creative store design must allow for easy modifications to match sudden changes in trends. In 2021, we at Seen Displays designed and produced the Bally London and NY flagships, with display flexibility and design detail celebrating each city. One of the ways we achieved this was by commissioning sustainable artist James Shaw to produce the surfaces. We designed the fixtures to allow for the surfaces to be replaced with new artists over time, to welcome new materials. Throughout the year, these fixtures hosted sculptures by new artists during London Craft Week, Freeze Festival and as part of Bally’s Art Trail.
If you’ve been back to the theatre since restrictions were lifted, you’ll have felt the relief of being back in a crowded place where everyone is there to be entertained & to appreciate craft and creativity – consumers are seeking that thrill we lacked for so long in-store too.
Katie Mitchell, Managing Director of Seen Displays, spoke of immersive experiential retail in an interview with Cream of the Shop, as ‘a stage in which a brand invites the audience to be the leading role. In that sense, retail hasn’t changed, but the ways in which the show plays out has.’
This movement towards a ‘New Retail’ demands more from brands in what they offer to their in-person consumers. From captivating windows to strategic way finding and digital touchpoints, experiential retail is all about the consumers personal journey in the space. A positive personal journey which triggers self-reflection, contemplation, or thought beyond the brand’s product, will likely lead to deep lasting connections between brand and consumer. Those connections are key to maintaining consumer loyalty and elevating brands to become a community, surpassing the goal of simply selling product. Brands therefore must now reinvent their approach to their craft, across all touch points.
The buzzword of 2022 so far in our industry, has undoubtedly been ‘Metaverse’. What is it? We were overwhelmed by it at first too, and there’s still a lot to learn. To try our best to understand, we designed ‘Seen Beyond’, our very own Metaverse space, to host a panel discussion with digital design experts. After an insightful learning experience, our main take-away from the project was that it’s important to respect both the real-world of retail, and the inevitable expansion of the metaverse. ‘Phygital’, the blending of both physical and digital experiences, feels like a happy medium for retail today.
In physical stores, technology’s role should be to enhance, not to distract from the spectacle. The idea of ‘Calm Design’, is that the interaction between a user and technology is a smooth shift of attention when needed, but should remain frictionless in the periphery. In our work for Bally London, we featured a transparent LED TV to subtly display campaign content video, shot in keeping with the store aesthetic. With the aim not to distract from the store, which was designed to celebrate both London and the British Countryside whilst respecting the brand’s Swiss roots, we wanted to ensure that any technology only enhanced these natural tones & textures, whilst adding a different dimension to the space.
‘New Retail’ is the seamless execution of omni-channel consumer experience. This means a clear design synergy between the logistics, UX, digital content, physical space and the product. Ultimately, this change in retail was already very much on the way, before the pandemic caused a more immediate shift in creativity. We’ve thankfully circled back to the personalisation of store experience, interactivity, and theatrical retail, where leading brands can showcase the craft and creativity which defines their design ethos – what an exciting time to be in such a fast-paced industry.