You’ve probably heard about the growth in online shopping, but what you may not realize is just how fast people are filling those virtual shopping carts. According to a recent forecast from Forrester Research, online retail sales in the states are expected to jump from $262 billion in 2013 to an estimated $370 billion in 2017.
While some may see numbers like these as the latest threat to the brick-and-mortar retail model, many leading retailers are beginning to see it as
an opportunity to collapse the walls that have traditionally stood between the digital and physical sides of their business. Whether it’s through the shrewd placement of technology within a store or the re-creation of a physical experience online, retailers are actively experimenting with ways to tie their online and in-store brands into a singular, compelling narrative.
The exciting news is that designers have a
crucial role to play in constructing these experiences, but where does one start? We spoke with a few designers currently working in the retail sector, and present their suggestions for creating immersive, connected retail environments.
start at the end
Bringing a brand’s online experience to its stores can start at the point of sale (POS), says Nathan Lee Colkitt, principal of San Diego-based Colkitt & Co. The experiences of shopping in a store versus ordering from a website may seem diametrically opposed, but there are ways to make them work hand in hand—and generate more sales.
One solution Colkitt recommends is providing options for customers to make online purchases and interact with the company’s website while in the store. This allows retailers to connect their customers with the exact products they’re hunting for, even though the physical location may carry only so many size runs or colors of a particular item. “It really expands the menu,” Colkitt says.
Another advantage to this approach (for retailers, at least) lies in the inherent speed of e-commerce. Companies will be banking on customers to make instant purchases while browsing the physical selection, reducing the opportunity for them to change their minds.
leverage your tech
As consumers become more and more accustomed to doing product research online, it makes sense to carry that sensibility into the physical space. Designers are now scattering iPads throughout the store rather than in one specific area, giving customers multiple chances to learn about products before buying.
Colkitt recommends providing a variety of iPad setups, allowing users to stand at a desk or sit near the shoes, for example, in order to cater to different shopping personalities. “People will only interact with a computer when it’s placed in a particular way,” he says, whether it’s in the front or back of the store, seated or standing. It can also make a difference in whether a customer feels comfortable enough to pull out their credit card. “You want to make sure people feel secure and safe.”
For Jay Highland, vice president and client creative partner with Chute Gerdeman, the rise of the digitally savvy customer means that designers need to find even more creative techniques for leveraging technology and digital signage in stores. “We’re moving into a place with digital content that’s deeper and helps customers understand products and features in a more meaningful way without getting in the way of the shopper physically understanding how to shop the store,” he says.
Retailers, for example, can use technology to show customers upcoming collections, how products work or how they will benefit their lives—but it can also enhance the experience in simpler, more novel ways. When Chute Gerdeman redesigned a dozen Domino’s Pizza stores around the county, designers included a digital component to link the online and in-store steps of the ordering process.
With the new personalized “pizza tracker,” customers can place orders online and then check their pizza status before coming in to pick it up. In a low-tech twist, a chalkboard in the dining room gives customers an old-school version of social media, allowing them to leave comments and feedback.