The Future of Retail

What makes for an enjoyable and unique shopping experience?

As more consumers expect retail experiences that somehow go ‘beyond buying’ to offer a unique, personalised, and memorable experience, there is a desire and need for design research and innovation in this space. This can be seen in the growth of ‘concept stores’ like Colette in Paris and in hybrid retail spaces that combine offerings – from getting a whiskey with your haircut at the barber to having your bike fixed while having a coffee, like at Look Mum No Hands in London. To investigate the future of retail we need to look at all kinds of environments and places we find appealing and want to return to; what makes a particular bar so popular? Why do people like to shop at a particular grocery? (picture above: © Bompas & Parr)

A recent project in the retail space got us thinking about how as design researchers, we need to investigate how different kinds of shopping fit into a person’s everyday life – from online browsing, to impulse purchasing, to gifting. Taking retail habits into account, we should also look at a person’s broader ecosystem of behaviours – from their social lives, jobs, hobbies, daily routines, and hopes and wishes for the future. Does someone prefer to shop online, or is trying on or tasting something in person essential for them? Do they prefer a quick and efficient shopping experience, or do they like to linger around in a store and discover new items?

Design research with in-depth interviews and in-store observation can provide insight into the current practices, behaviours, and feelings around retail, identifying where there is room for improvement and space for innovation. Observation requires balancing a fine-line between being a ‘fly on the wall’ and observing things as they naturally would happen, and striking up conversations with staff and customers to hear their first-hand account of experiences and day-to-day interactions. Photography plays a key role during these observation periods, serving as visual notes to remember moments and spaces that stand out – for example, a customer feeling uncomfortable entering a dark space in a store, or a display of shampoo bottles that feels particularly inviting and intriguing.

Design research and innovation in retail spaces and experiences will continue to be more important as consumer’s expectations and desires change. In particular, it’s essential to see how new technologies currently play a role in retail- from ‘instant’ shopping to personalisation opportunities to interactive experiences  – and to explore how they may play a role in the future. For example, Bompas & Parr’s ‘Alcoholic Architecture’ in London is an interactive, multi-sensory experience where one enters a ‘walk-in cloud of breathable cocktail’ – perhaps providing a glimpse into the future of retail.

Sam Miller

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© Derek Diluzio, Whiskey Barber

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