Off the back of our #FrameLive Retail talk, we hear what lies ahead for the typology from three more voices in the field: Ian Johnston, creative director of London-based retail-experience consultancy Quinine; Lithuanian shopfitting solutions provider Fitsout’s business development director, Arune Dziugeliene; and artist and director Anita Fontaine, known for her work in VR.

Safe havens

‘In the short term things have become very tactical,’ says Johnston. ‘We need to build trust and encourage people to return to stores. In the short-term, that means reacting to people’s new hygiene expectations and their anxiety around proximity to other people – the germophobic mentality.’ Simple in-store interventions can help: social-distancing stickers on the floor and screens that separate staff and consumers. Some touchpoints may need to be rethought entirely, such as touchscreens. ‘Will we interact in that way anymore?’ asks Johnston. And then there are factors such as testing and trying on: ‘Will people actually be touching things as they did in the past? Make-up is an interesting one, with those tester tubes. Are they really valid anymore? How do we get customers to engage with demos again? What about bulk-bin purchases? Do people want to be serving themselves?’

I believe that customers don’t really care anymore via what channel they’re shopping, online or in-store. It’s kind of irrelevant

Shop anywhere, anytime

Johnston feels the pandemic has thrown us ten years ahead in retail terms, accelerating our appetites for and comfort with online shopping. ‘The last few sceptics are now on board, because they have to be. I believe that customers don’t really care anymore via what channel they’re shopping, online or in-store. It’s kind of irrelevant. We talk about it, but I don’t think customers actually do.’ He foresees ‘ubiquitous retail’: ‘physical touchpoints woven together and underpinned by a digital framework, a seamless pathway to purchase’. In other words: phygital will thrive. Dziugeliene agrees there will be a balance between shopping virtually and in physical stores. Even though many businesses have made quick switches to e-commerce or elevated their existing platforms, she believes – and hopes – that physical stores will see a rebound success once restrictions lift across the world. ‘One of the best examples is the Hermès store in China, which pulled in $2.7 million in one day after reopening. I trust this gives a lot of hope to other brands.’

Lithuanian company Fitsout provides shopfitting solutions for the likes of Giorgio Armani and Italian menswear couture house Brioni.

Reframe what we mean by ‘store’

‘The purpose of stores will be redefined,’ says Johnston. ‘Does the customer need more experiential interaction? Education? Social activities? There’s less of a desire to pick things off shelves when we can have them delivered to wherever we are. Stores need to function in a different way – and be multifunctional. Looking at how a format fits within the business and facilitates a number of different functions – distribution, showroom, community activities – is really important.’ The roles of staff might also then be redefined: are they consultants, servers, deliverers? What skills do they need?

Dziugeliene, too, thinks socializing might play an important role in future retail. ‘This whole situation has already changed the way people behave, their time- and money-spending priorities. Such changes may stay with us and become natural. I’m sure people are hungry for emotional experiences and socializing, which were absent for some time.’

‘I think these spaces could go two ways,’ said Fontaine in an interview in Frame 135, ‘either becoming places of anti-technology or futuristic living and breathing entities. Or a blend of the two. Since we’re only really on the cusp of thinking about this – tapping into all the senses – more R&D needs to be done.’

Ian Johnston of Quinine – which has created spaces for the likes of Orange – believes tomorrow’s stores need to facilitate a number of different functions such as distribution, showroom and community activities.

Consciousness over convenience

‘One of the big changes is this notion of convenience,’ says Johnston. ‘I see us all re-evaluating what convenience means to us individually and its impact on our environment. When I order something, do I really need it the next day? Could I not group orders into one delivery at the end of the week?’

The team at Quinine is talking to its clients about the importance of community and building loyalty. ‘We’re turning our attention to values, not value,’ says Johnston, ‘whether that’s ethics, authenticity, sustainability. These things were already brewing, but conscious consumerism is being pushed to the front of people’s minds.’ He believes people will emerge from the pandemic with a purchase-with-purpose mentality. ‘I think we’ll see a new wave of pop-up-esque experiences driven by local communities.’ 

As a human race we’ve been rebriefed to what advertising, consumer and retail design could even mean in this new context

Fontaine feels that ‘what’s happening around us currently . . . will impact consumer behaviour and how we want to inhabit the world. As a human race we’ve been rebriefed to what advertising, consumer and retail design could even mean in this new context. I wonder whether retail installations will become more like gardens – more calming, more about giving consumers the tools to heighten their consciousness. What if retail environments recalled earthly essences? What if architects, Noses and creative technologists combined forces to embed spatial design with sensorial, organic and smart tech? When people feel ready to shop again, they will have emerged from a period of consuming less. They’ll be craving artful – maybe even healing – realities that draw them in.’

‘I wonder whether retail installations will become more like gardens – more calming, more about giving consumers the tools to heighten their consciousness,’ says Anita Fontaine, who worked on the Paraíso Secreto VR experience for beer brand Corona.

Flexibility first

‘It’s difficult to forecast anything these days but one thing is certain,’ says Dziugeliene. ‘Things won’t be the same again.’ As specialists in shopfitting solutions, her company Fitsout is responding by being responsive to market needs. ‘We need to remain flexible and continue to provide creative solutions that support our clients.’ 

We need to remain flexible and continue to provide creative solutions that support our clients

‘Companies that are agile and flexible, those that have been able to pivot their operations or outlook very quickly, have been the most successful,’ says Johnston. ‘We need to embed these qualities into everything we do. It’s tied to the idea of embracing the unknown. It’s okay that we don’t know what the future will hold. That’s a lesson I can take forward. One of the things that surprised and uplifted me during the pandemic is the power of the people. Don’t underestimate people’s ability to all participate in driving towards a goal.’

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