Thursday, April 19, 2007

Re-thinking retail design to address consumer self-service

A few weeks ago SelfServiceWorld published an article on the "new rules" of retail design. The crux of the argument: "New technologies make it possible, for the first time, to reach those individual customers with individual experiences. Digital signage, self-service — and, perhaps most importantly, the rise of multi-channel retailing — are demanding a new holistic view when it comes to the design of in-store experiences."

As I read through the rest of the article, which talks about retail media, shopper traffic monitoring and even shelving, I couldn't help but think: the rules are still the same. Ever since that first shop keep decided to put a sign outside his door advertising the arrival of fresh produce, biscuit mix or bolts of fabric, the rules have been largely the same. Make the store pleasing to the eye, ensure that shoppers feel comfortable, and (in the US at least), make sure that there's plenty of room to navigate. While there are arguments both for and against making products easy to find and convenient to purchase right away, these are more merchandising questions rather than design ones. Likewise, the addition of digital signage systems and other in-store media augment, not replace, current design considerations.

On the self-service front, there are basically two categories of devices that impact store design. The first are those machines that improve the store experience by making a hard process easier. I'd place self-checkout lanes, price lookup terminals and product information kiosks into this category because each provides shoppers a way to perform a standard in-store action more quickly and with less hassle than before. However, in all of these cases while store design might have to be modified slightly to make optimal use of the technology, they certainly don't require dramatic changes. The second category of self-service devices gives shoppers access to new services that they might not have had before. Loyalty program kiosks and product extension/virtual shopping terminals go here, because these kinds of activities are generally not available otherwise. These technologies have the potential to be quite disruptive when properly integrated into a store's business and design plan, and I could see the case for making significant changes to a store's layout if management thought it would drive business via these devices.

With everybody from Wal-Mart to Victoria's Secret constantly trying out new designs in an effort to improve the in-store experience, it's clear that there's no sure-fire method for winning over customers. Between changing tastes, new and diversified product/service offerings and the fickle nature of shoppers in general, the best we can do is try and keep up with consumer trends while making stores more enjoyable to navigate. While new retail media services can make the shopping experience better and even more fun, to those who have already been exposed to the fine art of store design, I think they're more likely to inspire ideas of evolution rather than revolution.

Tags: store design, retail media, merchandising

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