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The only place to create a real experience is in a bricks-and-mortar store

29 August 2018

There’s no way around it — the popularity of online shopping has had a considerable impact on physical stores. As a designer, how can you help to encourage consumers to continue to shop in store? By continuing to prioritise the “experience”.

We have five senses — sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste — which are stimulated together. You stimulate all five senses in a physical store, but online you can only really stimulate sight and hearing. 


The store of tomorrow

Katelijn Quartier is the Academic Director at Retail Design Lab. With her team, she is researching how the physical store of tomorrow will look and the role that it will play in omnichannel retail. She then translates that into the right design. “A brand wants to give its customers an experience. That means that the designer must sacrifice some retail space for the experience. You coordinate the precise nature of the experience with the store or brand, something that the customer will really understand.”

tommy hilfiger retail experience


tommy hilfiger retail experience


There’s no one size fits all

Quartier continues, “A brand firstly determines its DNA and what it represents. The designer’s job is then to translate that into a store concept, and that starts with the layout of the store. The layout needs to be logical, and everything starts with the customer — where products are placed, the location of the exit, the location of the stairs to other floors and so on.”

Consideration also needs to be given to the checkout area. It needs to be kept interesting and engaging to stop customers simply reaching for their phones.

“Another phase is for the interior designer to set out the look and feel, which includes the colour scheme. There’s no one size fits all. Where stores once focused on a specific age category, they now need to think about a whole range of different target groups, all of whom will experience the store in a completely different way — one customer may be in the store to buy, another to try a product out or just to look, someone else may be comparing products or looking for advice... You need to combine the needs of all of these groups into a single design. The details are very important. The checkout area is often designed with functionality at the forefront, but this space is perfect for adding more experience — customers spend time here just waiting.”

Sonos has opened a store in London in which the experience takes precedence over product sales. “Many people have discovered Sonos at their friends’ houses, and we’re trying to mimic that feeling in our store,” explains Whitney Walker, General Manager of the Sonos Store. Sales staff receive a month of training in customer service to ensure that they know how to approach customers in the right way.


sonos retail experience
Experience takes precedence over product sales at Sonos (source:


Making authenticity credible

How does a brand want to be perceived? Is it a chain that focuses on price or luxury? Or perhaps an authentic appearance? The interior is an essential component in bringing this over to the consumer. Katelijn Quartier again, “Today’s consumers are highly sensitive to authenticity, so we have many shopping environments that are entirely credible, but at the same time completely stylised. If you do something well, consumers will believe in what you’re about.”

All Saints is a clothing brand that capitalises on authenticity in its stores. Aside from the sewing machines in its window displays, everything is designed to look “old”, from the flaking paint to the dated furniture. Perhaps the brand overdoes it, but it works, and more so, it’s a statement that says “we are a traditional brand”.

All saints retail experience
Authenticity at All Saints (source:

Carrefour Market is renovating its stores to create a more authentic and traditional experience. Bread, vegetables and fruit will be presented more attractively to help increase their appeal to the consumer. Wood and brick walls will help to enhance the look. Carrefour has opted for digital printed wall panels from Unilin.

Create a reason for people to come into the store

Once you have the layout and the interior, the experience will follow. But how do you actually get people in store? By offering added value over the online experience.

A pilot project being trialled by MediaMarkt puts the experience at the heart of everything. On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, baristas are in store to test the espresso machines and to make and try coffee with visitors, plus visitors can try out hair straighteners and virtual reality sets. MediaMarkt is, therefore, giving people a reason to come to the store.

Mediamarkt retail experience
MediaMarkt creates a reason for people to come into their stores (source:

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