Opinion: New era

Blended strategy

The era of ‘New Sublimity’ and the ‘website in store’ experience needn't be mutually exclusive, says Simon Mitchell, co-founder of Sybarite.

LS:N Global delivered a special report in 2012 detailing a new era for the physical in-store shopping model – they coined it the ‘New Sublimity’. They asserted that consumers were approaching a phase of questioning what they must do in order to feel fulfilled in a world of confused, oversaturated branding. In recent years, a more thoughtful consumer has been defined, one who is thinking more spiritually in terms of the relationship with their belongings and interiors.

This consumer often searches for a more authentic, fulfilling relationship with the brands they choose to purchase as an antidote to overt consumerism. The outcome has provided a shift towards a more experiential rather than purely transactional form of retail and store design that encourages contemplation and relaxation. This can, of course, seem at odds with the next gen consumer, who expects and desires high-speed tech innovation to expedite the process of browsing, selecting and buying products whether online or in-store. Burberry is a much cited example of a brand which has very successfully demonstrated how the latest retail technologies can be merged with an in-store experience that feels simultaneously ‘hi tech’ and sumptuous, welcoming and relaxing.

At Sybarite, we believe a more sensually appealing in-store experience and innovative technology (both online and in-store) to provide efficiency and excitement need not be mutually exclusive. It is the role of the contemporary retail architect to create a seamlessly blended merging of the two (to a greater or lesser extent depending on the brand, of course). A more sensually fulfilling experience, encouraged in large part by the interior retail architecture, will encourage the consumer to stay longer, giving them more reason to connect with the brand and to browse products more closely. When done well, the consumer leaves feeling uplifted, pampered and their mood transformed, which is something the online experience isn’t able to do in quite the same way.

Sybarite aims to blend technological solutions and this notion of ‘sublime materiality’ into design proposals for its luxury retail clients. We employ this blended strategy independently for each client, as opposed to creating a standard Sybarite house-style. For instance, for the vast space of the SKP department store in Beijing we wanted to create a flow across seven floors and an identity that transcends the brands within it. The new logo was the starting point; two parallel lines linked by two tangential curves create a flow. This SKP curve has then been applied in a multitude of different ways to create a sense of contemplative flow with a holistic language that realigns the store into one recognisable form, without overpowering the individual luxury brands. The consumer is encouraged to stay and to explore the many floors via a coherent sensually appealing architecture. Colour palette, lighting, shapes and forms play a huge role alongside up-to-date technology in encouraging the consumer to spend longer in the store and to explore beyond their initial reason for visiting. Since our transformation of SKP, the store ranks first among all luxury department stores in Asia in both scale and sales and turnover has seen a tenfold increase in some departments.

We worked closely with Marni for 15 years, working around the world to find a common brand language that doesn’t rely on overt branding. This Marni store design identity was first achieved by the purposeful omission of clothes hanging from walls. Instead we developed an organically shaped sculptural structure that flowed through the centre of the store, with garments hung from it. Materials were smooth and sensual to subliminally trigger contemplative states in the consumer’s mind, just as sculpture will often encourage thoughtfulness or stimulate the imagination. As a result, consumers are encouraged to browse, to linger and to look more closely.

Providing a meditative quality or sense of mindfulness can be created as an antidote to the frenzied overload of our technologically enhanced lives. This approach to creating retail environments promotes the notion of ‘being in the moment’, and looking more closely at what’s in front of us, rather than continuously thinking about what’s just happened or what is yet to come. In order to view a clothing collection or product in detail, it helps to have one’s senses open to the experience. Overpowering technology can detract from this – so it needs to be offset with carefully considered tactile materials and shapes to create a more sensual environment that results in a more conversational form of commerce.

Hard edged technology risks overwhelming consumers or taking away a human aspect – but when retailers blend technological innovation with softer, organic forms in the retail environment, technology is welcomed as efficient, as opposed to frenzied. Through a number of client projects, we’ve made reference to Art Deco style as a means of evoking a sense of timelessness and classic luxury, prompting memories of iconic grand shopping destinations like Burlington Arcade where the shopping experience is sumptuous and savoured.

Aesop encourages visitors to stay in store longer to better understand the brand by providing a sensory experience. The choice of materials and lighting encapsulate an organic return to nature experience. Each store unique, they never employ the harsh lighting favoured by beauty halls ; instead they create a spa-like sanctuary, inviting the consumer to wash their hands with the product and ponder the range in a slowed down state. Aveda has long provided tea, to similar effect.

Modern day consumers often choose online over in store for ease. The contemporary retail architect must create environments that complement this with ambient surroundings that seduce the senses and encourage customers to explore and to linger. A unified cross channel consumer experience that appeals to the senses as well as responding to the need for efficiency and speed should be the goal in mind for today’s retail architect.


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