By Peter Burgoyne
Curating the in-store experience is about much more than aesthetics. This can be tough for some designers to swallow. Aesthetic experience, after all, is the reason many of us get out of bed in the morning. For better or for worse, the truth is that everything the customer experiences in the store must reflect the brand experience.
For example, a few years ago many retailers became obsessed with the idea of marrying nicer visual presentations with exacting approaches to “SKU rationalization.” For upscale chains in particular, this disciplined approach was often a good way to improve the look, feel and functionality of the store. But over time, value chains that tried this approach often ended up wanting an annulment. They loved the look of those wide aisles and the minimalist chic of those barebones merchandising strategies. But, the marriage of SKU rationalization and hipness tended to send consumers an unintended message-namely, that this was not a store for bargain-hunters. Value shoppers don’t mind sasquatch-high shelves heaped with merchandise. If the presentation feels too precious, in fact, they’ll sense that something is wrong.
Designers also need to think about how their work will affect those who work inside the store, because virtually every element of the in-store design graphics, lighting, architecture, you name it-will affect how employees feel about the brand.
So, it is little wonder brand consultants spend so much time encouraging clients to define exactly what they stand for. Once those brand attributes are honed to diamond-like clarity, they can be used to sharpen all other facets of the in-store experience. When a luxe department store chain asked us to DDI I August 2013 redevelop the men’s collection at its Beverly Hills store, the company had a clear idea-it wanted to present the merchandise “as a fusion of an and fashion.” So, we created several unexpected sculptural elements. For example, we fused glowing, translucent, acrylic surfaces into the wood lattice structure of the fitting room. These and other architectural moments sent the message the chain wanted: “You will find the very best fashion here.”
For Duane Reade, our rebranding campaign emphasized the local connection, not only to New York, but also to specific neighborhoods within it. For the Wall Street store, (or instance, we brought in on-the-go elements, like a shoeshine stand, a sushi bar, a cafe, and a hair and nail salon. In hip Williamsburg, we created a growler bar with gritty urban graphics. When supported by a strong, foundational brand strategy, such amenities can bring real relevance.
And, of course, the look and feel of any and all apps, mobile-optimized websites and the like must also be brand-resonant, because these days the customer experience tends to begin long before the shopper walks into the store. Hair Cuttery is working with us to develop a new app that allows customers to book appointments right from their phones. When you wait one or two minutes instead of 30, it is a very different in-store experience indeed.
Designers tend to derive a lot of joy from aesthetics. But, the good ones also tend to love storytelling every bit as much. This is precisely what makes curating the in-store experience so much fun. After all, it takes a lot of creativity to weave compelling narratives out of such disparate elements.