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The art of creating the perfect retail 'discovery moment'

By Chun Wai Cheung, Associate Design Director at UXUS
23 September, 2022
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Covid didn’t bring the end to brick-and-mortar retail that some people predicted, but it certainly changed it forever. From a retail design perspective, it’s led to brands facing increasing pressure to offer customers a real reason to visit physical stores, as opposed to just shopping and browsing online. As a result, the ‘discovery moment’ - that special flash of inspiration, surprise or delight that customers experience in a store - has never been more important. It’s what all brands are craving for and creating it for them has become a core part of our work across the retail and hospitality sectors.

However, creating the perfect ‘discovery moment’ is not as simple as it might seem. There is a certain art to it that needs to balance customer insight and cultural relevance with brand values and authentic brand expression.

Defining the 'discovery moment’

There are an infinite number of approaches to discovery moments within retail and hospitality. It could be a moment of theatre, a visual spectacle or an entertaining experience. But it could also be much more subtle, such as a retail environment that elicits a gentle feeling of relaxation, a seamless piece of service that delights customers, or the sharing of some helpful information that improves a customer’s day. Whichever approach they take, they are at their best when they are sensorial, immersive, and emotional.

Starbucks’s tasting experiences are a prime example of the discovery moment in action in how it transforms the mundane high-street coffee purchase into an immersive bar-tasting event that brings customers closer to the brand and re-excites them about the product. In a similar way, we worked with a world-renowned skincare brand to create a new store for the next generation of beauty customers which prioritised satisfaction and experience. It featured installations that invited free play, experimentation and interactivity with the products, as well as moments of personalisation, all designed to be shareable on social media. Following the launch of the store, overall customer satisfaction increased by 46% compared to the previous store, with 85% of customers feeling like the store offered a unique experience, up from 47%.

At the more subtle end of the spectrum is the way that new hotel concepts, such as Birch Community Hotel, offers activities like foraging, composting, beekeeping, and baking to transform the generic hotel-stay into a gentle immersion into the local environment and community. Another example is the work we’ve been doing with a major supermarket chain recently to spark curiosity amongst time-poor grocery shoppers about new cuisines and diets without interrupting their shop.

Understanding customers

What helps these examples create a lasting impression is that they are based on a thorough understanding of customer desires. In fact, creating the perfect discovery moment should always start with getting back to what the customer wants right now – and tomorrow - by tapping into insights about what the target audience is craving for. After all, it’s all too easy to create ‘noise’ around a brand which, might go some way in generating hype, probably won’t foster lasting customer loyalty or commitment. A successful discovery moment manages to combine a disruptive, surprising quality with an experience that genuinely relates to the audience’s values.

For example, the Starbucks tasting experience is born out of the increasing sophistication of coffee culture over the last decade and by more niche consumption trends, such as omakase coffee tasting, while our skincare brand example drew heavily on how younger audiences consume and share beauty content on social media. The work we are currently doing with a major fast food brand in China creates a radical design intervention in the familiar restaurant interior which, on the surface, could be seen as a superficial design element but in fact is based on a deep understanding of the two main demographics who dine their most often.

Balancing courage and comfort zones

As more and more brands work to transform their physical stores around discovery moments, it’s getting harder and harder to claim a new territory or do something different. It’s therefore crucial for brands to have the courage to do something new and to break new ground, but only if there is a reason for doing so that makes sense for the brand. In order to succeed, discovery moments not only need to channel the desires of customers, they also need to firmly inhabit the world of the brand and its values. Creating an experience by starting at the core of the brand will help create a discovery moment that is genuinely unique to the brand as well as being a faithful and impactful expression of it.

Finding the sweet spot in the Venn diagram of being courageous and innovative on the one hand whilst staying in the comfort zone of the brand on the other is the playground that we love exploring at UXUS when we work with clients. In discovering this balance, we are able to help our clients achieve 'buy in’ from senior leadership teams because the concept we are creating is both grounded in the heart of the brand whilst pushing it in a new direction. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than creating the perfect discovery moment for a brand and we look forward to sharing more examples of how we are bringing these to life for customers in retail and hospitality spaces around the world with you soon.

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