Three Lessons from the 2016 International Retail Design Conference

Increasingly, retail outlets are becoming showrooms for smartphone-wielding shoppers in search of the best deal, but who will, at the end of the day, complete their purchases online. So how can you, the brick-and-mortar retailer, create an environment so compelling that shoppers would rather make their purchases on the spot at your location than at home on their laptops or smartphones (while in their PJs on the couch)? We here at Ignite wanted to find out. So we sent our best to the 2016 International Retail Design Conference in Montreal to learn the latest in retail design trends that will give you back the home court advantage.

Here are our top three takeaways from the conference:

1) Brick-and-mortar isn’t dead; it’s just different.

The central theme of this year’s conference addressed the concern that what used to be the pillar of retail—the big box, brick-and-mortar store—has become obsolete. That’s just not the case! Instead, brick-and-mortar stores have become experience destinations for two types of customers, each with different reasons for travelling to the store.

The first type of customer goes to a retail location because they have already made a product and purchase decision and are walking in ready to buy, or they’ve almost made up their mind up about making a purchase, and will do so if their visit goes according to plan. The second customer goes in undecided; they may make a purchase on a whim, but most likely are only seeking to experience the brand and your product.

In either case, the right training for your retail associates can help create a retail experience that nudges these shoppers along the purchase journey—right towards your checkout counters. Retail associates should be out of the way, but visible, approachable, and ready to answer any questions customers may pose. Allow the customer experience products firsthand. Let them educate themselves and become acquainted with your product. Most importantly, be ready to sell the product and complete the transaction as quickly and fluidly as possible. While “Buy It Now” is a touch away, that human interaction is indispensable and goes a long way.

(Inversely: Have a kiosk where customers can complete the transaction by themselves. Create a positive, low-pressure, educating experience for more introverted customers who want to experience the product first-hand but may be overwhelmed by a busy retail environment, and those customers will be back.)

2) Give your customers a localized experience.

Create something unique about a specific retail location, and it will give your brand character. Whether it’s a specific product mix that’s manufactured locally or a retail environment that reflects the city it’s in, an aspect that is unique to only one location is certain to create a memorable experience. It could be an eye-catching display that says a million words about your brand or retail culture, or a simple experience that surprises the shopper. In this case, it’s not about the immediate sale, but about the memory that sticks with the customer and will keep them coming back time and again. Give the customer a reason to share your store on social media and let them do the work of spreading the word about your brand for you.

3) The future of retail is comfort.

Here’s the main idea: Create a comfortable environment for your customer and they will develop a positive association with your brand. A comfortable customer is more likely to make a purchase.

Creating that comfortable environment doesn’t have to be hard. Food and beverages, seating, softer lighting…these are the things that create comfort. Step into a Pirch, a Nespresso, or an IKEA, and you will be offered place to sit or a bite to eat. Smart retailers around the world are starting to include these creature comforts in their retail environment designs. We visited a Frank and Oak boutique while in Montreal for the conference, and we’re still reminiscing about the scent of fresh-ground coffee that greeted us. That familiar smell and environment is sure to create positive associations with your brand and keep customers coming back.

(Thanks to Kevin Kennon of Kevin Kennon Architects for the insight.)