Increase in urbanization, rise of nuclear families, growing affluence levels, increasing aspirations and a preference for branded products, the last few years saw the stars aligning for the retail industry in the country. However, we also saw it develop a love-hate relationship with new foe – e-commerce.
While the two found new ways to attract consumers, the balancing forces transformed consumer behaviours like never before. The changing needs and motivations of the consumer impacted the retail store design continuum in the country significantly.
Let’s recap a bit. Like any other channel, the conversation started with ‘value’ – the sole purpose given to design. This value was measured through floor productivity, efficiency of space utilization and various other metrics. Store design may not be something visible per say but had to be something measurable, the objectives were clear to deliver value through design.
This changed progressively as retailers understood the power of visual merchandising. They awakened to the fact that store design was not just a medium of product display but also a medium to attract consumers and make a sale. From overall store layouts to point of purchase displays, item display, assortments and signage, the science of visual merchandising was developed to capture the attention of the consumer. Design had now moved to being a key tool of revenue generation.
While the world of retail upgraded itself into numerous visual merchandising techniques to grab consumer attention, ‘attention’ was the only thing that the consumer didn’t have. While the macro trends created a favourable demographic and purchasing power, the advent of e-commerce, smart phones and the numerous social media channels made ‘consumer attention’ the costliest element to acquire for any marketer. This changing consumer behaviour made the most significant shift in the store design continuum – a medium to deliver unique brand experiences.
As retailers move towards an Omnichannel distribution strategy, they are realizing the power of the potent brand experience that can be delivered through a brick-and-mortar store. They saw how a consumer now was not just buying into the product but also the ethos that the brand carries with it, woven into a holistic multi-sensory experience, unraveled in a store.
The importance of delivering this brand experience is even understood by brands with primary online presence. Pepperfry, Zivamme, Lenskart, Caratlane are just some examples of brands in their flourishing years which have created special experience centers to bring alive their brands in the physical world.
Stores are also becoming more transparent, simple to navigate and more digitized then ever. The outreach is being extended out in all different formats be it a spill out like a pop-up or an app. Virtual reality is adding an unfathomed dimension of possibilities through gamification like virtual trial rooms, catalogues etc.
But its not just all technology, we are seeing this heightened brand experience design take inspiration and make exchanges from varied cross category themes. Currently experiments are being undertaken with inspirations drawn from theater, wherein scenography – the art of orchestrating a scene is used to create an experiential journey of emotions.
Some existing examples are brands like Nike, which has excelled in providing a unique personalized experience of designing ones own shoes, but now is even translating the same through personalized store journeys thus creating an explicit amount of the ownership of deriving one’s own experience.
Another interesting example is of Big Bazaar Gen Nxt stores, which recently launched ‘sit down billing’ lounges in their retail stores. The service was created to tackle the biggest consumer pain point in large-scale retail – long queues. However it goes beyond just being a pain reliever to an exclusive experiential space which surprises and delights consumers and provides a heightened experience of Big Bazaar’s brand promise – selfless customer service.
As brands find unique ways of expressing themselves and engaging the consumer through their stores, we feel the next question to ask would be about the invisible aspects of store design. While we manifest the brand experience through physical design, are the people delivering the experience real brand representatives? Our we building a cultural base of the pyramid before we jump to finding its tip? The brands, which are able to answer and solve for this, would definitely move towards creating a solid foundation for not just their retail stores but for their brands as whole.