A design community looking for ideas, information and inspiration in an improving but still challenging environment found much to take away at the 12th annual International Retail Design Conference (September 5-7 in Chicago). From operational and design insights from McDonald’s, Macy’s and Target to grocery and beauty retailing trends, this year’s conference had something for everyone. Here, we present some of our favorite moments and notable quotes. Also visit irdconline.com for more reviews and to learn about next year’s event, September 17-19, 2013, in Vancouver.
Kick-off speaker Bob Phibbs got attendees out of their seats and into creative mode on Wednesday morning, sending paper airplanes flying around the room. The man who calls himself The Retail Doctor drove home the idea that people, not price, make shopping a good value and worthwhile experience. “It’s up to you how you talk to people,” Phibbs said.
He challenged audience members to stay passionate about their work because “you are the ones who make us excited to walk into a store.” He suggested starting each day by naming five things to look forward to and ending each day with five that went well. “What we focus on becomes reality,” he said.
While Phibbs touched on getting to know and appreciate ourselves, Marian Salzman focused on getting to know the people walking into your stores. As we try to segment the American demographic by generations, trendspotter Salzman told the Thursday morning crowd that the distinction between millennials and boomers is blurring. Both are reacting to the economy and to the Internet, said Salzman, ceo of Euro RSCG Worldwide.
“Age is no longer about chronology,” Salzman said, “it’s about health, wellness and state of mind. Boomers are enjoying the freedom of the Internet. Look at all the seniors dating online. But they’re frugal in this economy, just like the millennials. They both want lots of free stuff, lots of coupons and lots of peer approval.”
In accepting VMSD’s annual Peter Glen Retailer of the Year award, Amy Hanson, executive vp of property development and credit and customer service, showed how Macy’s is straddling the old (its heritage) and the new (its future). Part of that future is redesigning and contemporizing some of its heritage stores, including what she called the “monster” – the $400 million, four-year overhaul of its Herald Square flagship in New York.
The strategy is clearly working. Hanson reported 33 straight months of same-store sales increases. And it’s not all in-store sales. She said that 2012 online sales are up 35 percent year-to-date. Macy’s research shows omnichannel customers are worth twice as much to the bottom line as in-store-only shoppers. But “every dollar spent online influences almost $6 in-store within 10 days.”
In a special look behind the scenes, closing keynote speaker Francesco Cordua spoke about McDonald’s efforts to make itself better by design, as the fast-food giant undertakes a $2.7 billion, 4-year renovation of its restaurant experiences in North America. The design director shared how McDonald’s breaks down its restaurants into flagship, anchor, traditional and special segments, and the approach it takes to decide which upgrades to make inside these spaces. “If I’m going to transform this brand, I can’t have one shiny flagship,” he said. “I need to transform all 14,000 locations.”
He talked about how changes in restaurant design have driven double-digit returns above comps in some locations. “If you’re going to design, you need to mean what you design.”
Lessons from the Breakout Sessions
As the trend in urban retailing continues to grow, Target offered a peek into the strategy and design behind its first three CityTarget spaces to hit the marketplace in 2012. “We don’t want to do things that are fake or don’t attract the community,” Target’s Eames Gilmore and Stephanie Tillman told the crowded breakout session.
The compact stores, averaging 80,000-100,000 square feet, house several new p-o-s strategies, including grab-and-go areas on the first-floor levels, more cross-merchandising, digital ad boards and mannequins. Brian Fleener of MulvannyG2 offered ideas on what to consider before moving downtown, including understanding demographics and how shoppers are going to use your space: “What synergies can you create with the design?”
WD Partners unveiled one of its most recent retail surveys, “Supermarket Showdown,” to demonstrate which food retailers are best meeting their shoppers’ needs. WD questioned 2000 shoppers in 48 states in an online survey. Twelve supermarket chains were rated, from national chains and specialty retailers to mass merchandisers. One of the critical elements was “how good is the digital experience,” said WD’s Michelle Fenstermaker and Lee Peterson. “In one year,” said Peterson, “there’s been a 52 percent increase in smartphone adoption in this country. That’s 152 million consumers.” “And,” added Fenstermaker, “almost 60 percent of our respondents said they’re not getting in-store digital support from their food retailer. That’s a huge opportunity.”
As technology continues to come up in IRDC discussions, technical guru Jim Crawford offered some basic rules for installation by drawing lessons from two stores he recently helped develop – a new specialty Dick’s Sporting Goods concept called True Runner and an in-park Disney store. The first step, he said, is refreshing digital content frequently. “Make sure that when shoppers log on to your site, the events are current and the images and products are from this season,” he said. He also advised attendees to use QR codes correctly. “I saw a store in Singapore that did no more than link the QR code to the company’s website. At True Runner, on the other hand, shoppers who scan QR codes get local running routes on their iPhones.”
Three 20-something panelists emphasized the need for authenticity and customization during the Millennial Makeover session, moderated by Brian Shafley of Chute Gerdeman. “Best Buy is not always the best buy,” Rachel Lanzafame of Bergmeyer Associates lamented, suggesting more curated product assortments. Mary Lynn Penner of Chute Gerdeman imagined product-related events, such as a battle of the bands to attract music lovers. At David’s Bridal, the panel was dismayed by the lack of interesting and appropriate storytelling, prescribing personalization – semi-private fitting rooms with iPod plug-ins or wall graphics – to add interest. The panelists agreed that some retail brands, including Lululemon, Piperlime and World Market, are getting it right when it comes to targeting their generation.
“There’s a revolution going on today,” said Dan Stanek of Big Red Rooster, noting how sectors like healthcare are adopting more retail-centric strategies to improve their experiences. In a case study presentation on Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, Stanek and Nationwide’s Alisa Pinciotti shared some of the innovative approaches taken inside the 14-story hospital, including journey maps to help with guest and patient navigation, an interactive digital signage program and color-changing lighting to enable young patients to personalize their rooms. “We’re contributing to humanity by altering that experience,” Pinciotti said.
Some sessions focused on other ways to shift the consumer experience. “Play can be the glue that binds your brick and mortar services,” said Katie Baron, Stylus senior editor, retail and spaces, during her session “The Power of Play.” She urged retailers and designers to consider how consumers play during their free time, and how they might leverage similarly delightful experiences to prompt sales. Baron gave examples of live-in apartments used to sell home goods, dealerships that allow cars to be taken home for test drives and fitting room mirrors with interactive firemen who appear to propose to women trying on a new dress. Interactivity that goes beyond what shoppers can imagine will surprise them, Baron said, creating an unforgettable experience and a link to the brand.