Meeting consumer demand

With more and more of our much-loved retail chains dropping off our high street, it’s imperative that today’s retail designs offer consumers much more than a mainstream shopping experience. Here, Inex talks to Owain Roberts, Retail Practice Area Leader and Design Director at world-leading design firm Gensler, about why retailers should be aiming to create exclusive retail experiences that engage with customers and exceed expectations.

Of course every brand is different and has individual requirements, however, one necessity that remains clear is a need for retail businesses to look at new ways of engaging with customers rather than simply focusing on customer spend. In the past, this engagement has been approached via food offerings, such as in-shop cafes, to encourage consumers to spend more time within an establishment. Today’s engagements require original tactics that look far beyond an in-store eatery and focus on a brand’s tone and voice.

Activity-based learning
A prevailing topic within the world of retail design is peoples’ hunger to learn; it’s all about customers leaving with a better understanding of a brand or product and, perhaps, acquiring a new skill. A leading example of this is activity-based learning, which has vastly developed in recent years. 10 years ago, technology giant, Apple, spearheaded activity-based learning with its in-house theatres and Mac gurus, who are on hand to educate consumers on how to use the latest products. Fast-forward a few years and you have the likes of Nike implementing their ‘Running Club’ as a way of bringing like-minded individuals together in an activity. It’s all about having forums in which you can impart knowledge and advice in various ways; it’s not all about classroom settings or lecture-like environments, rather this engagement focuses on bringing like-minded people together to share a passion.

Elsewhere on the retail spectrum, we have the likes of cyclewear shop, Rapha, who have created a club culture amongst their client base, where their ‘Clubhouses’ act as meeting points for people going out on a ride, a hub for sharing knowledge and an environment to host guest speakers. Rapha have a space within their Spitalfields branch which houses a wind turbine so clients can try products on, take a seat on a bike and feel the benefits of the product.


Another example of creating an engagement that focuses on a brand’s ethos is our project for Waitrose. This project dates back seven years when we designed their first Cookery School. Back then, it was one of the very first examples of an established retailer creating more of a learning experience for its customers where individuals could learn to cook, bake and pick up knife skills. This in-store experience isn’t particularly a new concept, but it’s something that’s recently gained momentum and an element that companies should look into.

Adapt with the change
With the time-precious lives we live, the hassle of searching for a parking space or travelling on bustling public transport to reach our retail destination may seem an inconvenience for many, therefore retailers must ensure that it’s a worthwhile trip.

The retail business is an omnichannel; there are so many ways of buying currently, from Click & Collect to online-only options and consumers expect that there’s not much differentiation to shopping online and visiting the high street. It’s for this reason that traders need to offer an elevated experience; one that’s worth a customer’s time – they need to offer customers a reason to return.


Over recent years, we’ve seen many of our admired high-street shops disappear from our local towns and cities – Woolworths being the obvious example; and BHS another. These high-street outlets didn’t evolve and keep up with the pace of retail’s ever-changing habits and consumer demand. We’re now seeing smaller, newer brands rolling out ideas faster than more established names. The difficulty for those that have a greater presence on the high street is the number of retail units they would have to refit and redesign if they were to make significant changes.

Responding to the market
We don’t design retail spaces to last five to seven years; there is a continual need to update these environments to respond to very quick changes in consumer and demographic needs, so we’re designing in very different ways to allow this to happen. The spend on fit-out is dropping considerably, but, on the other hand, the investment being made on the operational and marketing side at retailers’ HQs is increasing.


Retail businesses need to stop and think about what their brand stands for. Digital interaction seems to be a buzzword being thrown around the industry, however, this isn’t always the right answer. Many businesses believe they have to employ screen-based, interactive components to create innovative experiences for consumers, but we carry around huge amounts of technology in our pockets, so looking at other ways of incorporating experiences into retail schemes is important – perhaps approaching a scheme from a more sensual aspect, considering sound and smell.

Retail design is a world away from what it used to be; it’s not just about the fixtures, we need to consider every single customer touchpoint and interaction throughout a store; orchestrating a complete and unique experience.

Connecting with customers in new ways is really important and it’s too tempting for retailers to turn to short-lived gimmicks. Consumers can see right through these gimmicks and, ultimately, you’ll have a failing retail model. Retailers need to be original and one size does certainly not fit all. Businesses can not rest on their laurels and expect a store to last, otherwise we’ll see more and more failures on the high street.



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