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Designing the Next Generation of Retail Places (Part 2 of 5)

Qualities of Successful Public Places

How to turn a physical space into a public place that people would love to come back to on regular basis -- a concept also known as the "Third Place"?

What is needed, first and foremost, is a definition of a big idea. A big picture. Sometimes it is a story of a brand; sometimes a clear function of that space; sometimes even just a simple overarching idea. 

In the retail world, a big retailer with hundreds of stores might have well developed brand with all the stories and elements defined, where on the other hand a small retailer with 1-2 doors can have a very intimate, friendly story. Both of these scenarios are fine, as long as there's a clarity of function and the consistency in demonstrating that unique character. That is what the branding is really all about: clarity, consistancy and character.

The big idea will define the retail space's purpose, target group, look and feel, customer activities, etc.

Here are four basic qualities of a successful public space. These relate to bigger public spaces, but retailers should learn from them since they relate to a basic human behavior.

1. Accessibility

Retailers often say there are three rules for a good store: location, location and location. That captures the quality and the importance of it.

Indeed, location has always been crucial in the retail industry (it still is). But nowadays, retailers must ask themselves: Does the place act as a physical extension of our virtual presence (i.e. a web site, mobile app, social media), where a user can continue down to a great in-person experience? In essence, the virtual location can drive traffic to the physical one.

Maybe a customer was intrigued by the experience in the place and now is at a point where he/she is deciding where to buy: Should I buy from an online retailer at a lower price? Or should I pay a bit more from a neighborhood retaler offering more than just the product, such as an experience, advice, and a relationship?

The goal is to make the place a destination, not just a utilitarian space. If that goal is reached, a less than perfect physical location is still acceptable. People won't mind a minor inconvenience, as long as the benefits outweigh the costs.

2. Comfort and Image

A place needs to be clean and well designed in terms of form and function. It should provide a comfortable stay for a defined demographic. In a recent psychological study from Columbia University, Relaxation Increases Monetary Valuations, it was found that when relaxed, people tend to valuate things higher that usual. A recent Wall Street Journal article analyzes how offering a relaxing experience can directly benefit retailers. 

Another indicator of this trend comes from McDonald's, a symbol of "get in and out fast," is putting billions of dollars into redesigning its restaurants (in U.S. and Europe). The new design includes comfortable chairs, sofas, fireplaces and free Wi-Fi. The fast-food icon hopes that by offering an extended, pleasant and comfortable stay, customers will come back often -- spending more.

New McDonald's restaurant design

Starbucks paved the way for these experiences a long time ago and has firmly establish itself as the quintessential Third Place. 

Recent examples from the wireless retail industry that reflect the same philosophy are O2 stores in the U.K. that offer a comfortable area for browsing the newest apps and for business clients, private workstations with free Wi-Fi.

At the recent iQmetrix Wireless Summit, during a discussion about the new generation of retail spaces, a retailer asked whether they should provide chairs in their stores. Absolutely.

In many shapes and forms, depending on the location within the store, a stool, chair, armchair or sofa would work. Provide a sip of coffee, a snack, and free Wi-Fi -- anything that signals, "Come in and relax. No reason to be uncomfortable."

3. Activities

This is a big one the retailer point of view. Successful places offer a quantity, variety and quality of activities. Of course, activities must be related to the purpose of the place. 

Having something to do gives people a reason to come to a place – and return. When there is nothing to do, a space will be empty and that generally means that something is wrong.Project for Public Spaces

What does that mean for a wireless retailer? If your store is empty most of the time, customers are there to make a quick transaction, to get advice or request service or device repairs. Even during their stay, do you provide additional activities that relate to your business, something to reinforce your branding, your industry or your products? Do you offer a sense of community?

Activities in the space must address customer needs. Customers need to be entertained; they need to be inspired; they need to be educated; they need to stay informed. If they are offered all four (within the context of the retail space) they will not turn to other sources (news, social media, online reviews) or worse, leave the store.

Retailer should establish and nurture that relationship with the customer, as it will not only last for the duration of their stay, but much longer -- out of store, online and in all subsequent visits. 

Disney stores recently went through a redesign to combine entertainment, education and additional information. Even Disney, famous for creating successful public places like theme parks, resorts and various other attractions, failed with this point in their older stores. Disney describes its new stores as "The best 20 minutes of your child's day," featuring a variety of activities for kids: interactive theater (picture above), magic mirrors, car building stations and more. Even if you are not shopping, Disney still wants your kids to come in and play, each and every day. 

4. Sociability

This is the hardest quality to achieve and is a sum (or product) of the previous three. If people feel good about a place -- it's easy to get to, comfortable, clean, safe, and offers appropriate activities --  they will enjoy the place, bring their friends and family, and come back on regular basis. Think about a successful cafe, sports venue, local park or a big theme park. Or a city. Or a store. Or your store? 

Today, the above paragraph better describes the time people spend on social networks than in physical spaces. The Holy Grail of the new retail experience will be to bring online social networks to physical spaces and merge the two in a single, seamless experience. That blend would benefit both retailers and customers.

Brick-and-mortar retail can win over online shoppers and turn the burden of real estate into a huge competitive advantage by creating social, family experience. Online (shopping) is solitary, so brick-and-mortar stores have an opportunity now to carve out a clear and differentiated shopping experience. Brian Backus, Kidlandia

Think of a place you like to go to and check off the four points described above. You will quickly realize places that are doing well are the ones with strong "big idea" and a careful nurturing of these qualities. 

Next:
Part 3 of 5 - Guiding Principles of Place Design
Part 4 of 5 - The Basic Areas of the Retail Environment
Part 5 of 5 - 5 Checkpoints for Next-Gen Wireless Retail Places

Previous: Part 1 of 5 - Introduction to Next Generation Retail Places

Date: 
January/12, 2012