The evolution of retail
It’s an exciting time for retail. While there are frequent reports of its demise – and this may be true for an old way of retail – the industry as a whole is evolving. This is in response to changing consumer needs and attitudes. In a digitally fuelled world where seemingly anything is available on demand, convenience is key, yet the appetite for inspiration and something new and different is ever-growing.
As a result, consumers want stores to not just deliver the offer they can get online, but they also want stores to deliver what the internet cannot. Regardless of channel, customers want better experiences from brands – from ease and convenience to inspiration and enjoyment.
The shift towards ‘experience’ is a well-documented one. However, experience is a very broad topic today, and can be misunderstood. For us at D&P, experience isn’t just something that is layered into existing stores or spaces; it’s everything a brand does to connect with a customer. It includes its brand positioning, identity and storytelling, content, digital platforms, service, spaces, products and people – all of these components together make the brand experience. This is why, rather than defining ourselves as a retail design agency, we’ve been working on a holistic approach to become a creative agency that specialises in total brand experience.
As an agency, we’ve been reflecting on the diversity of work we’ve been doing and recognising the shift in the role we have with our diverse range of clients. We’ve faced fresh challenges from the ambitious brands we’ve worked with, helping them define and implement their next chapters.
A huge challenge for brands today is to differentiate themselves in saturated markets. Consumers are also changing their spending habits, prioritising experiences over possessions and brands with purpose over brands without. For retailers, these drivers are having a significant impact on how they create and develop their retail spaces. The brief has changed; interior design remains important, but brands have to take more into consideration. A more insightful, strategic approach is needed to help clients find their position in this ever-shifting consumer landscape and it’s leading to a change in the way agencies partner with clients.
That being said, the role of the store hasn’t changed for every brand. A lot depends on the brand’s purpose and the role of the store in the entire brand ecosystem. For some stores, remaining a purely commercial platform will make sense. For other stores, their role could become more about raising awareness and building advocacy. Some store concepts have even transformed beyond anything we’ve seen before – just look at the Lego Wear x Snapchat store.
Joining the dots across physical and digital channels is another ongoing challenge for retailers. Omni-channel is a significant undertaking, and one that’s very much needed for many brands, however there should be a shift in focus to ‘complementary channels’. Not every channel has to do the same job; working out where each channel’s strengths are and the benefits they can bring the brand is more effective than simply applying the same strategy. Making sure online and in-store experiences work together in harmony is another area where we believe a holistic approach can make a big difference to retailers, creating the highest impact for the customer.
Whether it’s instant fulfilment and convenience or entirely experience-led spaces, stores will need to find their purpose and serve it well to thrive in this new era. In some ways, it has never been a more creative time for retail. The role of the store will continue to diversify as it adapts to new consumer needs and brand ambitions, and agencies will similarly evolve their offering to better serve clients.
Regardless of how diverse our role becomes, and how broad our expertise is applied across the total brand experience, we still believe that stores, whatever form they evolve into, will always be a fundamental part of any brand ecosystem and marketing strategy.