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The future of retail design

Steven Smit | 13 Jul 2015 | Comments

Ongoing developments in technology, in particular e-commerce, has very much driven discussions among architects on innovation in the retail landscape. According to marketwired.com:

"71% of all physical retail sales will be driven by web-rooming: the act of researching an item online before visiting a store to purchase it."

Architects and retail designers are now challenged by their clients (and increasingly consumers) to think about if and how the digital and the physical space can be merged to offer the public a new experience and to enhance competitiveness.

In experimental markets such as China in particular, where physical and digital (e-commerce) shopping malls are growing exponentially in parallel, the impact of experiments in hybrid new retail environments on the traditional model (as driven by leading Chinese retail developers wanting to innovate) must not be under estimated.

According to McKinsey’s iConsumer China 2015 survey:

"Chinese e-commerce is developing even faster than previously believed, with Chinese iConsumers embracing online commerce and major retailers rushing to offer ever more sophisticated online services….The research shows robust growth in social commerce, a trend toward transforming physical retailers into mere ‘showrooms’, and mounting consumer enthusiasm for more online-to-offline (O2O) services."

Worldwide, designers are now investigating the physical design responses or solutions that embrace the exploding e-commerce phenomenon. It is widely believed that e-commerce will not eliminate the shopping mall, but shopping malls will change and adapt. Designers are asking the question: What will the shopping mall look like in 2050? New terms are being coined: phygital environments, iConsumers, in-store digital technology, digital in-store convenience, immersive brand experience, sci-fi shopping, real time retail, O2O service, consumer data tracking.

Designers and retail developers believe that the value of the physical experience will remain important, maybe even more so. And with fully integrated and intuitive ‘in-store digital technology’, the whole experience will become more convenient. Online and off-line are not competitors but complementary. The survival of the physical store is not in doubt, and as the physical complements digital (complement each other, both ways), the overall shopping experience will be enhanced.

Consensus is that product remains key, now and in the future, and if product can not be replaced, neither can the mall. Designers are therefore proposing, with integrated technology, a more theatrical shopping experience could be designed, leading perhaps to a future ‘high street of theatres’.

If the store mutates into a ‘living web site’, this means that consumer data will heavily influence the retail landscape of the future. Data collected on the behaviours and desires of millions of iConsumers, will predict retail behaviour and thus influence the re-configuration of retail spaces, ultimately maybe leading to ‘immersive, ever changing selling spaces’.

(quotes sourced from FRAME Magazine May-June 2015, Retail: Tech Takes Over).


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