Designing a Smarter Store

How tech trends are changing Tesla, Sephora and more
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Posted December 10, 2013

From online shopping to mobile commerce and in-store tablets and touch screens, there’s no question: technology has changed how customers shop. To explore this topic further, I recently moderated a panel discussion hosted by Gensler and The Wharton School on “Designing a Smarter Store.”

The panel of experts represented retail brands, technology providers and industry analysts. It was a chance to hear perspectives on how technology today is influencing store design and elevating the customer experience. I was excited to hear panelists discuss different approaches to this challenge and what resulted.

Listening to the discussion, it became clear that technology needs to be integrated into the design to create a seamless experience and provide a clear benefit to the customer. The panel shared a number of examples where stores are using technology to better understand their customers and to solve customer problems, including:

  • Tesla, by eliminating the middleman dealer, is controlling the experience from the first contact through the life of the vehicle and is able to build a deeper, more meaningful relationship. 
  • Sephora uses digital to provide a layer of personalization and problem solving in their stores, like ColorIQ, which measures skin tone to recommend the foundation and lipstick colors that are best for you.

A second discussion point centered on the fact that the store environment is ripe for further innovation. For example, the store associate.  As the frontline connection to the customer, there is a big benefit to investing in tools that help them offer better service or provide them with additional training.

Another trend to watch is how technology will extend the store experience to engage the customer post purchase.  That may come in the form of Internet enabled products that proactively alert customers about replacement or replenishment or simply through business intelligence that recommends ways for customers to have a better product experience.

To truly understand what customers want and need, we – designers and retailers – should bring the customer into the design process.  Hosting a co-design workshop, for example, can offer new insights and provide an opportunity to connect with customers in a new way. Customer experience as a business function is leading to cultural changes that enable innovation and is helping organizations overcome the challenges associated with the implementation and adoption of in-store technologies.

One thing is for sure: Technology is the great equalizer. Up and coming brands have the opportunity to resonate with consumers in new ways, and big brands need to be on alert for the little guys taking advantage of this increasingly level playing field.

For example, Storefront is an online marketplace for pop-up and temporary retail space that lowers the risk and the investment of opening a store.

No matter who you are, attracting consumers with very authentic missions and messages will cut right through the clutter. The entire retail industry is on notice: If you aren’t planning for the future shopping experience, someone else is.

Andrew Bornand is a digital experience strategist at Gensler’s San Francisco office.