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Merging the retail journey through design

A new series of articles by designers, architects and senior professionals on future-proof design. Today George Gottl, Founder and CCO at global strategic design consultancy, UXUS, looks at the retail journey and the crucial role of physical stores in consumer engagement and brand loyalty.
28 March, 2022
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With the future of retail design constantly evolving, physical retail needs to take into consideration the non-physical. A holistic and fluid approach is the way forward.

It’s important that we don’t separate the digital experience from the physical experience, but ensure they work in tandem for the most impact, which is how consumers operate today. Everyone moves between physical and digital experiences in their day to day lives and retail needs to reflect this fluidity; the movement between the two worlds must be designed into the overall retail experience from in-store moments to a completely personalised digital customer journey.

The future of stores doesn’t need to be purely transactional; you can purchase things online delivered to your home, yet this equates to only a small percentage of sales. Whilst digital is scalable and profitable, physical retail still makes for 70-75 per cent of purchases globally. Evidently, physical stores are still more popular than digital shopping, which I believe is down to a couple of reasons, the first being that people who are buying something for the first time want to see the product physically, particularly with luxury items as you want to make sure it is the right investment for you.

Secondly, physical stores are important for connecting and showcasing what the brand is all about; the customer journey is a vital point of engagement and discovery, exposing the consumer to the brand’s expression and sensocial environment is something that can’t be replicated online. Retail design plays a crucial role in consumer engagement and brand loyalty – the more storytelling that happens, the more word of mouth organically spreads which is key for brand awareness development.

`One area retail needs to become smarter is around how they communicate by reducing the use and waste of physical comms materials; this can be easily done through QR codes in store, again leveraging digital brand experiences, furthering customer relations where there is no need for printed materials, and continuing that relationship outside of the physical experience.`

Despite rising utility costs, brands won’t move purely online as they can’t sustain themselves. Physical retail still equates to the majority portion of consumer purchasing power and it is important for the consumer to try on the product or taste a product if in the F&B space. For example, one of our current clients is a food brand and they have launched a unique flavour which simply can’t be experienced online. It has to happen in real life, in store.

On the other hand, fast fashion enables people to buy multiple items inexpensively and, most of the time, one gets sent back or donated to a charity, which not only has a profound environmental impact but is cost-ineffective for a business, losing money on reverse logistics. It is a very wasteful way of shopping, with the industry producing 10 per cent of global carbon emissions every year. Consumer shopping habits are changing with customers’ ways of thinking adapting to that it is better to buy in store; this is an opportunity for brands to really leverage their physical experiences for maximum outputs.

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It is no secret that retail design is highly consumable, retail spaces, not even the products. This is down to the POS materials, refurbishments of stores, changing of product activations which all require a lot of new materials that are disposed of season to season. A way this can be tackled is by looking at a modular approach; areas of a shop space that can be adapted and reused easily from activation to activation. This will significantly reduce material waste and save money for the brand in the long run. One area retail needs to become smarter is around how they communicate by reducing the use and waste of physical comms materials; this can be easily done through QR codes in store, again leveraging digital brand experiences, furthering customer relations where there is no need for printed materials, and continuing that relationship outside of the physical experience.

Packaging is another area retail design really needs to work on, an underutilised and often overlooked way of reducing waste is through refillables and reusable packaging. The beauty and home care industry has the ability to scale this up and evolve their bricks and mortar retail experience to encourage consumers to continue investing in their products with the added bonus of investing in the environment. It’s not only more economical for the brand in the long run but also for the consumer, which is naturally an incredibly attractive selling point. This will significantly reduce the amount of packaging that ends up in landfill as it is more often than not the packaging itself than the product that is detrimental to the environment. That said, I don’t think consumers are necessarily driven by sustainability as much as social purpose; in the end shopping sustainably doesn’t make as much of a meaningful impact on the individual so much as resonating with their social beliefs.

Despite a spike in e-commerce sales during the pandemic, stores will remain at the heart of retail, but as consumer shopping habits are changing, the store’s role becomes more complicated. If brands can do it right and adapt to the latest technologies and consumer needs by creating unique and meaningful customer journeys, then they will be successful. It was evident that during the pandemic many consumers were left behind, reinforcing the importance of an in-store experience.

This article was written by George Gottl, CCO and founder of UXUS, and first appeared on Designerati: https://designerati.co.uk/2022...

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