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Just the tonic: Emerging trends in retail

Clear themes emerged from the Design & Branding Theatre at this year’s Retail Design Expo, highlighting the challenges the sector is facing and how it is innovating to meet changing customer expectations. 


Here, DBA member Quinine explores these new and emerging trends, and the developments that are just the tonic for driving opportunity in the retail sector:

During Retail Design Expo 2018, the Design & Branding Theatre hosted a series of case-study presentations and panel discussions. Companies including EE, Stylus and adidas took part, and expert speakers from clients and agencies came together to share their experiences and insights on recent projects. 

The following themes captured the prevailing mood and sentiment: 

The rise of face-to-face retail

There’s a growing demand for knowledgeable, empathetic customer service in-store. With more customers heading into store to interact with staff face-to-face, retailers are looking at how retail environments can empower and inspire staff to create better in-store customer experiences.

The need for engaging experiences

Physical stores can no longer survive on just day trading. We need to define shopping in a new way. How do we entertain the customer? How do we inform? How do we stimulate and create curiosity? The speed of change and rising complexity of operations means retailers need to be flexible and brave to meet the expectations of the consumer. 


Do fewer things better

Retailers must focus on getting basics right first, before developing immersive or interactive in-store experiences. The in-store experience must balance the practical with the emotional, with the functional side of things well-tuned and in full working order. 

Customers are more than the products they buy

Customers are hungry to be connected on a more emotional level, fed by a need to share on social media. Creating this deeper, more consequential connection leads to greater levels of brand loyalty.

karolina-szczur-504595-unsplash-copy The new ROI, Return of Involvement

As we move from transactional to experiential activities, the way we determine business success needs to change. Measuring behaviour and emotional connections, rather than clear-cut return on investment will not be easy. New measurement criteria, which take in the whole customer journey, will need to be explored.

Connecting online with in-store

The digital and mobile revolution shows no sign of slowing down. As a way of refocusing on human interactions, retailers are looking to combine online and in store experiences in a unified digital and physical experience, that fits with the ‘everywhere brand’.

Shop local

Increasingly, the ‘local’ experience is being recognised as unique, personalised and relevant. Location is becoming more valuable to people, as they realise the benefits of shopping locally to help revitalise their neighbourhoods and build a feeling of community.

chris-ralston-484562-unsplash-copy Social context

With so many places to eat and drink and new ideas filtering into traditional retail, customers now expect a social context to be woven into everyday shopping. Retail destinations, high-streets, shopping centres and even city districts should be working to provide layered experiences, with public and private spaces that entertain, educate and encourage sociability.

Community connects you to customers

By creating places that bring people together, brands can connect to their communities. Dynamic, interactive environments that invite audience participation and collaboration can play their own part in defining a brand’s future direction.

Place-making involves shaping spaces for people

Although designers have been championing curated, well-designed environments as a way to differentiate brands for a long time, increasing consumer expectations have placed even more importance on the physical environment. A well-designed store can simplify operations, nurture job satisfaction, increase customer loyalty and connect the customers to brand values.

With these ten clear themes emerging from the Design & Branding Theatre at RDE, it’s apparent there are many similar challenges running through a wide variety of retail projects. Some of these themes (‘Create engaging experiences’, and ‘Social context’) are now movements that are gaining momentum and clearly not going away. Retailers should take note and react now if they haven’t already. 

New and emerging themes (‘Return of Involvement’, ‘Connecting online with in-store’, and ‘The rise of face to face retail’) represent an encouraging level of development and innovation from the retail industry in their attempts to meet the changing customer expectations.

About: Quinine

Quinine is a leading retail experience consultancy. We create physical environments for face-to-face experiences that work more effectively for business, brands, customers and staff. We are based in London and Vancouver, working globally with product and service brands to help them capitalise on their retail estate and increase their profitability.


Image credits

Photo by Jez Timms | Unsplash 

Photo by Chris Ralston | Unsplash 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon | Unsplash 

Photo by Karolina Szczur | Unsplash 


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