The retail concept is dead

The world of retail design has been one of driving towards standardisation, systemisation, and cookie-cutter design solutions wherever possible- the closer you can achieve a widget-like production the better. Viewed, strategically and financially, as driving economies, delivering at speed, and ensuring brand consistency across your portfolio, but I would argue not necessarily directly equating to sales growth, which design should deliver.

But this has all changed, and with Richter-scale magnitude. And I’m pleased.

Let me first address the x3 key reasons why?

We’re only humans!

We love tribal behaviour… from drinks round a camp-fire, watching a movie in a full-house cinema, congregating at a sporting event, shopping together, socialising, politically protesting on the streets with a common view, or anything where there is other human contact, interaction, or commonality. We are creatures that enjoy other likeminded creatures, with matching beliefs, goals, kinship, mutual interests, or simply company.

We don’t need anything
Well, other than a few essentials for life. However the likes of: want; desire; expression; change; experience; entertainment; escapism; love; giving, and many many more, are powerful and emotive drivers.

And lots of it!, for the consumer. In true abundance, and sometimes even saturation, across a multitude of savvy and fast developing channels…what/where/when, and for how much, we have it all on demand.

So how has this developed, as being ‘only human’ has existed for about the last 200,000 years, and ‘we don’t need anything’ has been around for about the last 200 years (discounting the likes of wars, famine and natural disasters and using say the industrial revolution as a date benchmark), and as drivers are therefore not a new phenonium that have suddenly encircled planet earth and weaved their way into our existence? And if we don’t warm up and fuck up planet earth, will exist a further 200,000,000 years (and in doing so, match or outlive the period that dinosaur’s roamed the world).

Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit
Also known as the ‘stealth bomber’, an incredible piece of design and engineering. And like this magician of the air, the above drivers have just crept up on us, constantly maturing and developing new strands unseen, and weaving their way into the fabric of our daily rituals and expectancies.

So I rejoice!… and no rocket science involved. If a brand, and very much one in the present and wishing to bound into the future, they need to present their product in an environment that is ‘socially enticing’, online and off-line.

Socially enticing
By socially enticing, I would paint a picture of a store environment that does more than just allow shelves to be stacked, or a parade of shops within a larger structure. One that is engaging, has a sense of place, an ethos rather than a concept, built-in agility, and adaption with chameleon-like effortlessness, charm, mood, and individually across your portfolio. It might banish the ‘retail handbook’ and ‘kit of parts’ to Room 101, but will breathe life and longevity into your brand.

Some brands have started to consider their portfolio in this manner, Aesop and Cartier being two very different retail examples in offer, but common in their approach to having a DNA and clear ethos, rather than cookie-cutter retail concepts. Both however suffer from iPhone-like incremental innovation, and retail requires reinvention or ground-breaking newness that truly appeals to the consumer and their drivers.

With regards to larger scale footprints, the likes of the department store and shopping centre, this also needs re-thinking (or as a minimum for the moment, brought up to speed and planning put in place for its future unmasking). The approach of an American copy-cat proposition doesn’t translate whether UK or globally, nor do architecturally design-led cathedrals consisting of flooring patterns, overly detailed balustrades and frivolous lighting features fulfil, even in the likes of say Dubai. To resonate with being only human (the consumer), a proposition of true ‘sociality’ needs to be established, and ‘personality’ designed. Examples succeeding in this would include Selfridges London, and the currently under construction Edinburgh StJames development. Both superb socially enticing and well designed spaces- with sense of place, living/breathing personality, digital and physical alignment, along with eventing or hosting integrated into their fabrics- with an ethos not a concept, and curator-like programming. Feature-heavy yes, but with meaning, purpose, and social connection.

To conclude

Don’t get stuck with rigid retail concepts and handbook bibles, or develop change through costly and ineffective minor increments, instead aim to out-live the Mesozoic Era, or even the next 10 years!, and plan your brave new proposition and design accordingly.