While mainstream retail design continues to innovate, this year is already proving that there’s a lot to learn from the fringe. Retailers and designers should look beyond the simple evolution of existing formats to discover glimpses of the future. But, innovation and thinking outside the box are no substitute for continued mastery of retail and service basics: Anyone wanting to visit recent award-winner SnackBox, for example, is in for a disappointment, as the restaurant was closed in January by the Department of Health for repeated, unaddressed health code violations.
Some lessons to consider:
1) Bring experience to retailing and retail to experiences.
While bowling a strike and shopping for shoes may seem miles apart, BluO is a great example of the entertainment component of modern mall strategy. Recognizing that shoppers coming to high-end Indian malls expect to eat well and be entertained while they shop, mall developers have incorporated dining options from streamlined food courts to high-end restaurants, as well as entertainment options beyond a simple anchor movie theater. Bowling, concerts, fashion shows, brand events and even full car showrooms are increasingly a part of the unique mix that makes shoppers want to come and shop.
2) Think inside – and outside – the box.
A small format poses unique challenges for retailers, but instead of simply reducing the assortment (and overhead), retailers can reimagine the relationship between the physical space of the store and the environment (both physical and electronic) around it. Food trucks often use Facebook and Twitter to extend the reach of their daily menu boards into the online space, and some are even experimenting with pre-ordering using mobile phones and QR codes. Small formats are even more dependent on the environment around them to be appealing, so leveraging the space into the design is critical.
3) Create tech-savvy touchpoints
Both small-format and experiential retailing venues work best when the extended shopping experience around them is unified rather than fragmented. Technology is far better used as a connection between touchpoints than a tool to make spectacular effects. Think for a moment about the queue at a foodstand like SnackBox. Digital signage on the outside of the box could be targeted at attracting new customers (with luxe visuals enticing passersby) or on serving customers already in the queue (by providing digitally updated menus with specials and sold-out items clearly marked).
Given that SnackBox is surrounded by glitzy, hundred-foot-high HD signage on Times Square, an attractive message focused on style over substance would get lost in the clutter. Instead, messaging focused on helping customers understand their menu options prior to reaching the front of the line leads to higher throughput and happier shoppers.
4) Think about what “small” means.
While large stores and chains are often slow to change, the lifeblood of small-box retailers is agility and the ability to both change and communicate change quickly. Witness the long, slow decline of Blockbuster against the explosion of Redbox. Turns out shoppers didn’t need to browse the covers of thousands of DVDs; rather, they preferred to skim through hundreds in a kiosk format that lets them combine getting a movie with getting their groceries. Airport retailers are similarly discovering that a convenient and well-curated retail assortment can turn a small space into a big moneymaker. The key is understanding the balance and giving shoppers what they want, but also when and where they want it.
5) Think small footprint, big impact.
We live in an era when technology has been getting smaller and cheaper, while also becoming more powerful. In many instances, it’s the size itself that is the limiting factor on price: Big-screen flat panels are still expensive, even after coming down in cost over the past few years. But the same revolutionary technology that has put advanced computing power into the iPhone means extraordinary opportunities for retailers to “think small” and deploy small, powerful touchpoints into their shopping experience. A $500 iPad can provide a richer, more immersive experience than a $5000 kiosk. Pico projectors in the $200 range can create vibrant small-scale displays. And the best small screen of all to touch? Your shopper’s mobile phone. They carry it with them through all channels and, to top it off – they pay for it, not the retailer.
Jim Crawford is executive director of the Global Retail Executive Council (grec), an international association, and a principal at Taberna Retail, a global retail shopping experience consulting company.
This article is one part of "Bowled Over," which appeared in our April 2012 issue. To read the rest of the article, click here.