A Concrete Problem – There is a surprise offspring of the new “borderless” retail paradigm that seems almost liberating because, finally, something can be defined in terms of a concrete problem. One having to do with store fixtures.
Is the Store Closing? – Did you notice that the merchandise in the drug store is all pulled forward on the shelf, implying – more than usual I mean – that the space in the back is not empty? When it starts to become so obvious that we begin to think that the store might be closing, it’s time for a change. Many retailers, even those embracing technology, are still stuck in the old “big box” store planning mentality, I hesitate to bring up Toys R Us again, but as Steve Dennis, writing for Forbes, tells us, “boring, undifferentiated, irrelevant and unremarkable stores are most definitely… dying…”
Curating an Inventory – The point being that changing the physical retail environment from a warehouse to a museum involves completely revisiting how an inventory is displayed and impacts the size and layout of a store. Curating an inventory, i.e., “show rooming,” means presenting it in terms of a multi faceted value proposition. It means incorporating a physical product into a marketing message using multiple and sometimes interactive types of media.
Multi Function – Suppose, for example, I walk into a store looking for new sunglasses. I walk over to the sun glass display and see that there are lots of frames and brands as well as examples of available coatings, lens colors, and an educational video about what all of these do. There might be a nearby kiosk allowing me to use my phone to access my eye wear history, insurance, prescriptions, exam dates and finally a scanned image of my face with recommended frame style, size, and shape. Maybe I find that there is an indicator on the store fixture that flashes when I pass an appropriate option based on the information in my profile. Once I find a frame, I am able to see other colors and finishes, check availability, see how much it costs, and read customer reviews right there on the display. I might then sit down with the optician so that he or she is able to give full attention to positioning the lens and finalizing my order. Sound improbable? Take a look at Amazonbooks in NYC and then say that.
Competing with Amazon – I understand that many retailers will neither want, nor be able to directly compete with Amazon. However, once a retailer gets over the initial shock, incorporating technology into a retail display program may not be as difficult as one would imagine; especially if the designer has a good working relationship with a store fixture fabricator experienced with the product line, offering a wide selection of standard interchangeable parts, and capable and willing to making adjustments. One such company is Ennco Display Group, who we have been pleased to work with in the past and recently met at Vision Expo in NYC. It is important to keep in mind that adding technology to an existing fixture is done to improve on an already good thing. All of the the thought, planning and testing that goes into creating a captivating visual display is not wasted because technology must be added to how it functions. Consider this: not only did Amazon go into an old Border’s space, but it also looks somewhat like Hudson News, who has been doing face out merchandise displays forever.
Teamwork – If you are a retailer thinking about introducing technology into a store design, my first recommendation would be not to over complicate what must be done. Examine resources already available to you, i.e. POS system providers, inventory system providers, advertising and media consultants. You are already their customer so ask them for help. See what functionality is already on your website and make sure it coordinates with what you will provide in the store. Finally once you have put your plan into writing, connect with a hardware/specialty consultant and introduce him/her to your design team. Team being the operative word. I think you will find that it is realistically possible to stay relevant in the “evolving” but never “disappearing” world of “bricks n mortar” retail.
Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.