Tomorrow's Project by HunterDouglas Contract
Tomorrow's Project is a discussion platform for prominent architects and designers to voice their predictions on the future of design. Every other week, we speak to design leaders who are developing ideas for smarter ways to live and work that challenge the norms in their sectors: healthcare, education, corporate, retail, and hospitality design.
Kevin Horn

Erin: Retail design changes with the times. How has it changed as a result of the recession?

Kevin: After decades of purchasing more and more "stuff," consumers are tapped out. Retailers that can offer a more personal or social experience will be able to meet the consumers desire to find something more fulfilling. Smart brands are blending shopping with educational or social components that both broaden product knowledge and foster a deeper sense of brand loyalty.

For example, successful food markets offer opportunities to eat, learn, socialize and shop under one roof. While cooking stores have the opportunity to operate as a culinary school with product irresistibly located on the way to the exit. Similarly, consumer electronic stores offer on site one-on-one technical services and product related classes.

Erin: How has it changed as a result of online shopping?

Kevin: The internet can tell shoppers what the product does and how much it costs, but they want to know more. They want to know how the product makes them feel. In this sense retailers are transformed into brand emissaries that create experiences focusing more on forging brand connections than on pushing merchandise.

Retail environments need to let shoppers kick the tires to build desire and spark emotional connections with the product. Bringing the product out of the box, off the shelf and into interactive displays encourages that pre-purchase emotional connection. At the same time the design of the store must also reflect the brand. The physical built environment will continue to be the most compelling way for customers to reach a total brand experience.

Erin: Give us an example of a project where the design was progressive or unusual.

Kevin: We are currently working on a project for Hyundai department stores in Korea. The traditional department store model in Korea is generally focused on efficiency and product. We are working with the client to create a variety of customer experiences segmented by target audience for each major merchandise district. The goal is to provide something more than the typical "grab-and-go" experience and more towards the creation of environments that customers feel connected to and want to spend time in. We are challenging the client to rethink their typical merchandising and operations strategies in order to create a unique offering in a very competitive market.

Erin: Is retail design driven by the brand or the location?

Kevin: Typically it is driven by the brand. Access to global brands anywhere in the world is easier than ever before and for the most part these brands want to present a consistent image no matter where they are located. Accessing global brands anywhere in the world is easier than ever before and for the most part these brands want to present a consistent image no matter where they are located. Yet, globalization fatigue is occurring in established markets. Today's shoppers are seeking real, authentic local experiences with designs and goods that they can't find anywhere else. In response to this, products and places should give consumers the experience of discovering something unique -- something off the beaten path.

Erin: From where you sit, what is the future of retail design?

Kevin: As money tightens, people take an inventory of their lives and re-evaluate what really matters. Their priorities change and retailers must evolve with them. More and more consumers are deciding where to shop based more on emotion and less on the actual purchase. This shift from accumulating goods to valuing the intangibles represents what I believe is at the heart of good retail: it is a very social experience and it will continue to be so. As much as modern technology has made our lives easier, people still crave interaction and escape. Smart retailers understand this and provide social and personal experiences that are both meaningful and engaging. As designers, we strive to create one-of-a-kind destinations.

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Innovation Poll
What drives you to a store, rather than a Web site?
  1. I like to ask questions and interact with the product
  2. I found it difficult to judge quality or size online
  3. I enjoy the in-store experience and ability to discover new things
  4. I shop online exclusively