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Un-Boxing Retail


Image Courtesy: Christopher Michel, CC by 2.0

If asked to imagine a typical retail store, most of us would think of a rectangular box with parallel rows or aisles of shelves stocked neatly and uniformly with merchandise. This is still the most common store format, since it presents consumers with a wide, sometimes staggering array of products in a fairly easy-to-navigate layout.

While this layout still works well for commoditized goods like office supplies and typical grocery packaged goods, consumers are longing for more. An engaging layout is crucial to apparel and luxury good stores, and shoppers continue to seek a sense of play and discovery in the physical space. They want to feel like they have learned something useful. The ability to interact with the environment in fun and innovative ways can make a huge difference in how consumers view a retailer.

Curated Landscapes

Some retailers are going all out to create an environment that allows consumers to wander around as they discover different product selections. By making the layout less linear, consumers can spend more time in store, looking at different merchandise. To facilitate this, some retailers are focusing much more on serious curation: getting to know their target customers and choosing enticing merchandise that will reflect consumers’ tastes and lifestyle, as well as allowing customers to personalize their selections. These retailers have designed their stores to feel more like a work of art than simply a transactional space, which helps strengthen brand images and connections.

The bottom line is that the traditional store layout is fine for categories where price is a priority, or immediacy is vital. However, most retailers who don’t differentiate their store experience in some way are at a disadvantage. Consequently, retailers should invest in retooling their layout, décor and merchandising to make a real impression on consumers and to make shopping in-store a more engaging experience.

Un-boxed Retailers in Action

Here are a few examples of retailers who are taking the un-boxed approach:

• Flowerboy Project in Venice, California is a florist, café and boutique is also a working studio where visitors can purchase one-of-a-kind items.

• Samovar Tea operates three lounges and one tea bar in San Francisco. Called “the Apple Store for tea” the store uses simple modern design to showcase the craft of modern tea making.

• Story in New York treats retail curation like a magazine editor, completely reinventing itself every 4-8 weeks. Shoppers can find a new store every time they go.

• Flying Tiger, the Danish home goods retailer, now has two locations in New York. Visitors discover inexpensive home goods as they walk through a maze that winds its way through a predetermined path in the 5,000-sq.-ft. store.

• At Aesop on San Francisco’s Fillmore Street, one finds a cosmetics store with a design that invites exploration. A wall of shelving tapestry made of reclaimed wood that divides and subdivides to create irregular nooks waiting to be discovered.

Bob Gibson is retail vice chairman of JLL.

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