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Size Doesn’t Matter … When It Comes to Experience-Driven Environments

NEXT UX: Three experiential concepts showcase the importance of the customer journey

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WHENEVER I TRAVEL to new cities or countries, part of my “discovery therapy” and jetlag cure is to get out and see hospitality, retail, public spaces and food services in my destination. Sometimes the places I visit are not exactly new or haven’t been mentioned in the press before, but my judgement sees through the lens of engagement as to whether the place grabs me and makes me want to linger.

For decades, the metric of time has been an important measurement of keeping the consumers’ interests in a retailer’s services and products. It’s why signage, visual merchandising and great design entries are such magnets in crowded marketplaces.

📷: Ulf Wittrock / Shutterstock

📷: Ulf Wittrock / Shutterstock

Here in Europe, where I’m based for a few months, it’s also easy for me to compare to what I see back home in North America. With that in mind, there is also a little to compare and contrast.

I love nothing more than going to food markets – small or large – in any country I visit. There is just something about seeing how they merchandise, how they place signage and decor, and their product mix.

Germany is especially home to some of the largest retailers in the European Union. Even here, however, there are two surprises and I happened upon that frankly captured both my mind and wallet.

Many of you have likely read about the Globetrotter flagship in Cologne (Köln) which, many years into its life (17 years), is still a busy emporium in the walking district of this historic city. Globetrotter covers 75,000 square feet over four levels and it still delivers a powerful, interactive experience for sports enthusiasts.

While the store shows its age in some respects, its central pool and elliptical shape creates a unique journey with visual vistas everywhere you look, reminiscent of the very outdoors it celebrates. From testing a headlamp in a dark room to learning to scuba dive in a 14-foot pool is just part of the outdoor lifestyles you can try out at Globetrotter in the middle of a city of 1.5 million residents.

Cologne, like most European cities, has a network of pedestrian-friendly streets that feature a collection of local, national and international brands. While walking I discovered, as you often do in these cities, one of those gems. It’s a new retail concept called Obi Mach Bar; its name translates roughly into Obi Make Bar, taking a nod from its namesake parent OBI, a German mega-retailer in the DIY space (a typical OBI store is shown on pg. 16).

OBI is a multi-national home improvement company that operates 668 stores across Europe. This big box retailer has done something that’s frankly brilliant in terms of shopper marketing and bringing the brand to a new audience.

At approximately 2600 square feet, this small format concept is friendly to a young, urban clientele. They know that this demographic likes to create and to use their Euros wisely through creating rather than just buying.

The space features numerous ways for the socialization to come off the street and into the store, which is full of bar table tops perfectly suited to work on DIY projects. The center fixtures were designed to be workbenches that evoke a DIY feel and encourage shoppers to get messy if needed by painting or gluing an item ideal for their apartment or a handmade gift.

The designers did an outstanding job in bringing the brand architecture to life and adapting it into this new concept. It still feels trendy and right in line with a “boutique store” versus a large international big box store. The store is event driven with a revolving series of workshops. (Mach Bar was a prestigious Red Dot winner in 2022.)

At the other end of the spectrum is the flagship Edeka food emporium in Dusseldorf which was a former Kaufhof Department Store. At nearly 105,000-plus-square-feet (roughly 10,000 square meters), how do you describe a food store like none other? Opened back in 2018, this grocery icon is still one of the most noteworthy large food retailers I’ve come across in my extensive global travels. I’d rank it as being in the top 10 global food retail examples I’ve seen in my career.

It’s a strong statement because seldom have I spent nearly three hours in a food market without seeking a quick exit. Edeka owns a little more than 20 percent of market share with nearly 4100 stores in a wide variety of sizes. It’s a network of independent operators under the umbrella name. The two floors are coupled with a major parking structure and an onsite hotel. Thus, a true destination was born right in the heart of the city of Düsseldorf.

📷: Brian Dyches

📷: Brian Dyches

One of the most notable aspects is the great lighting and feeling of openness that invites you to explore the next great food/gourmet area. The boutique-like service areas (i.e., mozzarella bar, wine bar) do something few stores today offer, which is the invitation to slow down and savor the food or drink immediately. Yes, there are food markets with sampling and common eating areas, but they don’t always entice you to stop and enjoy a wine flight.

Each area is staffed by food specialists who can regale you with details about the food or drink that is more typical of a high-end hospitality experience versus a grocery store that only sells bread and milk. Each area makes you feel like you’re at a specialty retailer. There’s only signage where it’s absolutely necessary versus a circus of signage on endcaps and throughout aisles, which is more typical of this retail segment. The lighting is focused on the product versus over-lighting the volume, making it feel like a discount hypermarket. There’s even a Michelin star restaurant on the lower level called Setzkasten Gourmet Restaurant that is typically booked out days in advance and showcases the very quality ingredients you can source within the Edeka flagship.

A final impressive area is the so-called BIO section that many readers may call the “natural food” section. This area alone would come in at the typical Trader Joe’s store size. The BIO area was well stocked and on its own, has an impeccable natural food selection. What I loved was the ability to shop BIO and to head to the checkout points without having to trudge through categories that most natural-food-shoppers aren’t interested in.

📷: Brian Dyches

📷: Brian Dyches

In short, whether mega or boutique size, these three retailers are showing how experiential retail is done at the highest levels. OBI has given us a new way to think of a small format reaching a new audience; Edeka proves that 60,000 food products doesn’t have to translate to boring presentations and endless aisles; and Globetrotter invested in bringing about a store environment that is all about the customer journey and a celebration of sporting activities.

At the time of this writing, as I head to EuroShop 2023, I look forward to bringing you highlights in my next article as we all seek what the Next UX is around the corner.

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