Owain Roberts, design director at Gensler, discusses why retailers must get creative if they are to make the most of their space.
John Lewis recently announced it was considering introducing co-working or serviced office space in its larger stores. The reason – to make better use of its existing space and offer a greater experience for customers.
Yet whilst this may seem strange to the average consumer, the conundrum of how to make the most of retail space continues to rage, driven by financial pressures faced by individual retailers and consumer demand for a constantly evolving shopping experience.
Large retailers are being forced to reassess, rationalise their portfolios and make the most of what they already have, rather than regularly pursue new sites. To do so, they must find new ways to be eye-catching, boost footfall and increase dwell time and sales. Without innovation they face the threat of administration.
One option is creating new brand collaborations in store, with Benugo and Comptoir Libanais featuring in John Lewis a prime example. This benefits all parties by association, providing a tangible link between complementary brands or services, and offering them as a combined package to consumers whose interests have already been defined.
These collaborations may be logical – brands from a similar industry with similar values and an aligned consumer image, an Argos inside a Sainsbury’s for example, or they may be from different industries entirely, such as food and drink, office space or events space, or health and fitness. House of Fraser recently began offering yoga classes in select stores and through doing so can widen the experience consumers can expect in store. Regardless, retailers can offer more, in product range, experience or both, to consumers who have never needed a greater reason to step away from their screens and into a store.
Another focus is the importance of having a flagship store to drive customers to purchase. These stores act as a living billboard and way to experience a brand. Flagship stores must deliver sales, but perhaps more importantly, a lasting impression which builds loyalty towards the brand, inspiring repeat purchase regardless of whether that store itself is ever visited again.
We see this not only in large spaces such as stores in Westfield or Bond Street, but also in smaller spaces in Soho and Shoreditch, and a need to make the most of existing space is by no means a concern solely of those with substantial space.
Another way retailers can significantly increase the effectiveness and profitability of existing space is to look closer at how consumers interact with it. A huge amount can be learned about how to make a store more consumer friendly by analysing shopper behaviours, movement through the store, points in which they pause and areas which receive the most attention. Some retailers have even used behavioural consultants to assess the unspoken feelings consumers convey towards the space they’re in, in order that retail redesign can greater cater to both their unspoken and spoken needs.
Technology, including virtual reality, can also totally change ways in which consumers engage in store, with a few innovations not only enhancing experience, but often freeing up space in the process. Virtual changing rooms (UNIQLO and Vans have both experimented with this technology) are a prime example of this, allowing shoppers to see what items will look like, without the need for added changing room space. The result, greater sales, greater experience and a greater interaction.
Yet retailers mustn’t fall into the trap of using innovation for its own sake as consumers will see through this immediately. Instead, they must be in keeping with their brand and provide a clear benefit to consumers.
As well as a more engaging shopping experience, time-poor consumers are also demanding greater effectiveness of their free time. This means any retailer which helps consumers tick off more than one box (shop and exercise, shop and work etc.) is likely to receive their custom, with this becoming increasingly important in areas with highly fragmented shopping areas.
To be successful, retailers must ask three questions – what do our customers really want, how can we provide them with an exciting, lasting experience in store, and what do we need to add – whether it be new technology, brand partnerships or space diversification, to do so?
These are big questions; the good news is there are also a lot of answers.