Designing the Next Generation of Retail Places (Part 4 of 5)

The Basic Areas of the Retail Environment

In this article, we will take a look at the main in-store retail areas where the place qualities and the design principles can be applied.

We already mentioned earlier that, besides in-store, the out-of-store and online experiences are inseparable parts of retail process. Even though we won’t discuss the other two in great detail, we have mentioned them in various contexts.
Depending on their specific industry, retailers would offer a variety of different in-store areas, but the following are common across all verticals:
1. Entrance
2. Main circulation
3. Pace
4. Sale

1. Entrance

Store window displays, followed by the entrance area are the starting points for physical in-store exploration. If your store would be a magazine, what would be the front page? 

All the devices of the facade are preludes to the entrance itself… There should be some sense of transition from the public world outside to the special world of the retailer inside. Rodney Fitch, retail designer 

The business world is competitive and this area is vital for establishing brand awareness and the glimpse of the overall experience. 
What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people,” said American urbanist William Whyte. All retailers obviously want to associate their products with the popularity of use, so the combination of quality store content and the organic buzz visitors create is the best recipe for this area. Consider an Apple store entrance, where the great gadgets are being perused by an energetic crowd, or Microsoft store displays within a simulated living room with big-screen TV + Kinect, as visitors play right in the window display. Or the Lego Store entrance area shown in the image bellow.
Again, the character of the retailer, defined in the brand, dictates the content of window displays and the entrance area, but a few logistical items are worth mentioning. 
The entrance area needs to be spacious -- to prevent bottlenecks, open -- so it allows a complete overview of the store. It should also be engaging, providing some introductory activities: check out new products, promotions, or even better -- promotional events.
The last has to be laid out with caution though, as placing any important piece of information or merchandise very close to the entrance (or at the entrance itself) can make it unnoticeable by customers, as carefully observed and documented by Envirosell, a company that studies customer behavior.
It has also been empirically proven that majority of customers indeed tend to walk to the right, a principle known as Invariant Right.” Having that in mind, the prime location within the store is to the right of the front entrance and 5 to 15 steps in, because that’s where the maximum number of people will see it.
The entrance area is also a good location for staff to greet the shopper, but not much more than that. It is certainly not a place for pushy selling tactics. Further contact can come after a minute or two of a shopper’s self-directed product discovery. 

2. Main Circulation

Main Circulation is a controlled path customers follow around the retail space. Defining this path might seem more appropriate for big spaces, but even small spaces can benefit from careful considerations of how to lead visitors through the space. Targeting different needs at different moments makes much more sense than overwhelming a visitor with an abundance of choices and products. 

Every store is a collection of zones and you have got to map them out before you can place single sign. You’ve got to get up and walk around and, asking yourself with every step: What will a shopper be doing here? How about here? Where will their eyes be focused when they stand here? Paco Underhill, Envirosell 

Circulation at IKEA (which also address clear sequential experience) starts with showrooms, inspiring customers with scenarios for their homes. After the initial inspiration, customers are sent on a guided journey through different sections. Experienced customers can use shortcuts (that are not clearly labeled). That is a guided path. 
Another intuitive model is hub and spoke,” where there is a hub -- a clear anchor point in the store, like branded cash tills or a central hub of activities -- and spokes, braching out to various sections of the store. This model assumes a clear overview of space, which is surely a bonus for the customer. A nice example of that model are the Vodaphone stores in Qatar, designed by FITCH (see photo below).
There are, of course, many circulation patterns (horizontal, vertical, circular, figure 8, etc.) and the right one depends on a retailer’s space, branding and the nature of its retail goods. At its core, a circulation pattern should make the customer feel safe, relaxed and engaged -- not lost, overwhelmed or frustrated. The more comfortable shoppers are, the longer they’ll stay in the store.

The amount of time a shopper spends in a store (assuming he is shopping, not waiting in line) is an important factor in determining how much he will buy. Over and over again, our studies have shown a direct relationship between those numbers. Paco Underhill, Envirosell

3. Pace

Pace defines the speed at which someone moves around the space.
Recently, I visited a coffee shop next to the Vancouver Courthouse whose designers had clearly considered the need for various paces within a single space. The main entrance from the street was positioned in the middle of the store where, at a fast pace, customer can easily run in, grab a coffee-to-go and leave, or stay for few minutes seated at a window stool. The medium-pace area was placed on the left, where customers could stay little longer, with seating at cafe tables and chairs near a secondary entrance. The slow-paced area was located on the right-hand side, where armchairs and much more comfortable seating were provided, with a fireplace and TV screens. Finally, as an interesting add-on, was an area on the far right (in proximity to the Courthouse) that addressed a special slow pace”: private meeting rooms. 
This example clearly explains the problem of pace. Fast-paced scenarios demonstrate the retailer’s efficiency. On the other hand, the slower the pace in the store, the longer the customer can be exposed to the brand and products. However, slowing the pace should result from the customer’s volition -- not from the retail space’s limitations. Only then will it lead to a positive customer experience.
In the case of wireless retail, one of the biggest pain points is plan activation, which lasts too long for both customers and retailers. But by incorporating various interactive tools and multimedia, the invariably slow pace of activation can be turned into a much better experience.
In the coffee shop example described above, the pace is indicated by the choice of seating: from bar stools to armchairs, from fast to slow. In wireless retail, offering a seating and info station where customers can learn more about the products (by themselves or with a help of staff) will visibly slow down the pace. 
Social shopping -- the scenario where a shopper is accompanied by a spouse, children or friends -- is also a factor to consider. On average, the time spent when a woman is shopping with another woman is 8 minutes and 15 seconds; woman with children is 7 minutes and 19 seconds; woman alone is 5 minutes and 2 seconds; woman with a man is 4 minutes and 41 seconds.
These averages are across retail verticals, but they indicate clear trends. To slow down the pace, know who your primary shopper is and offer activities and areas to keep their company entertained -- if they are not already involved in the shopping process itself.

4. Sale

Obviously, this is the most important area for the retailer.
Where to position this area: front, center or in the back? How about everywhere? No, we are not talking about principles of quantum physics. We’re considering the ability of staff or even the customer to complete the transaction.
Remember: This series of articles is based on the premise that the retail space now serves as the beginning of the marketing-distribution channel, not just the transactional endpoint of that channel. Checkout -- whether fixed to a cell phone store POS location, or on handheld devices toted around by staff, or even on a customer self-checkout app -- needs fit into the uninterrupted flow of the overall in-store customer experience.
In this and the previous three articles, we’ve discussed the qualities of a successful public place, design principles for designing to public places, as well as main elements of retail places. Our hope is that, after reading one or all of the articles in this series, a retailer can come away with a better idea of how his/​her stores should look and function under a new design.
Retail is human and as such, it is constantly evolving. Very soon, old-style physical stores might have nothing additional to offer customers, that cannot already be found online or in featured locations. Even wireless stores, where customers would still like to try out a device before buying it, may become redundant, as showrooming” grows in consumer popularity. Some customers might even come to their purchase decisions solely based on the user experience of their previous phone, or based on recommendations read on their social networks.

Fab has more interesting products and merchandising and presents them in a more interesting way with much deeper social interaction.

At Fab, something like 25 percent of the purchases over Black Friday weekend were a result of Facebook referrals. There’s a whole fun element to shopping, a whole entertainment element, and a whole excitement element that the first generation of e-tailers were not very good at. 

- Predictions for 2012 (and beyond), Marc Andreessen (co-founder of Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz) 

Very early on, the Disneyland finance team realized that in order to make the park profitable, they would not only have to get revenue from the attractions, but to get a third of total revenue from three sources: attractions, merchandise, and food & beverage.
If, for example, we consider the main attraction” of wireless retail spaces, it would be the products: phones, plans and accessories. In the next generation of the wireless retail spaces, products almost move to the secondary position of merchandise.” The main attraction” has become a great customer experience, an experience that provides inspiration and stirs the imagination about how the merchandise will eventually be used. In this scenario, the inspired customer is steered toward buying merchandise based on main attraction. Not the other way around.
And the food & beverage part? I don’t think the customers would complain. O2 customers certainly don’t (coffee and tea are provided in-store).

Editorial design requires new approaches to physical spaces and new ways of thinking about communication and service in-store. Taking this idea further, why can’t the whole of the retail space become a living, dynamic magazine?

Shop window displays represent the cover page of a magazine and should draw people inside for the rest of the story. There should be regular, changing in-store features” or stories that generate newness and interest.

If retailers want to remain a major part of the consumer experience, they have to tempt customers away from the Internet by ensuring that their three-dimensional format remains as fresh, vital and easy-to-use as their two-dimensional competitors.

- Tim Greenhalgh, Chief Creative Officer, FITCH 

Next: Part 5 of 5 - Checkpoints for the Next Generation of Retail Places

Part 1 of 5 - Introduction to Next Generation Retail Places
Part 2 of 5 - Qualities of Successful Public Places
Part 3 of 5 - Guiding Principles for Place Design