Next Store | New Decade, New Insights from CES 2020

The annual consumer electronics show offers visitors a look at the macro trends that will drive strategy and design.
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Posted April 23, 2020

If there’s ever been a time in retail to look beyond our four walls into the “smart” world, it’s now. Every year, CES, the biggest annual trade show in the U.S., held in Las Vegas, brings more than 175,000 attendees to visit 4500 exhibiting companies, many of which are major retail brands.

Yet, each year very few store design folks are part of the mega-event. I ask myself why, but then I remember how most assume the show has nothing of value for them. Wrong! This show offers clues as to what trends will shape the design solutions and new concepts of the future. It’s time to really start thinking outside of the box and fully understand what people will be utilizing in ways we never imagined. After all, many of you clamor for consumer data, and at CES, you’ll live it every day.

I believe the following areas will have a major impact on design and customer experience in 2020:

Smart home/health: I’ve seen this area of the show explode in the past five years from a niche section to an area that takes almost half a day to go through at a digestible speed. Examples came from three strong players we all know: B8ta (Seattle), Asics (Kobe, Japan) and Sleep Number (Minneapolis, Minn.). All three have brick-and-mortar stores, and at the show they showcased the future as they see it.

Let’s look at Asics as an example. If I want to design their stores for them, then understanding how the brand showcases its technology gives me clues about space planning, environmental graphics and visual merchandising strategies to tell the brand story the way in which the innovation engineers intended. Take Asics’ smart shoe with sensors that monitor movement. This single feature can yield countless ideas about how to bring in-store technology and the brand narrative to life, showing the client you really do understand it’s about helping to sell more than it is about experience only. Experience without a sale is, well, not going to keep you in business.

B8ta showed a shoppable trailer to remind brands that getting your new products in front of the customer sometimes requires a tech-rich environment. Getting tech in the consumer’s hands to sample the user experience is paramount to a new product going viral. And, this model includes observable sensors and data capture points that deliver a custom analysis of consumer activity and related sales conversations. Not thinking about this in your creative brief is a major mistake these days.

Smart cities/transport: Driverless cars and delivery models are changing fast. The way the customer gets to our stores or has their purchased items delivered will become an extension of the brand. With multi-family structures under way in most medium to large cities, there’s a need to develop new ways to deliver merchandise to mailboxes and lobbies. Working with quick-serve restaurants? I predict a big impact coming there as well.

Design: From packaging to exhibit design to branded graphics, CES brings about a lot of “A-game” work worth seeing first hand. One example was Fremont, Calif.-based flexible tech innovator Royole’s bendable screen tree – the perfect anchor piece for a store environment. Within a year, I believe we’ll see bendable screens incorporated into show windows.

Samsung Neon’s “digital avatars” were mind blowing and indistinguishable from real human actors. I predict that retailers will embrace the use of these digital assistants in fitting rooms and other serviceable zones where having full-time staff doesn’t make economic sense.

LG and Samsung showed rollable screens that discretely retract into their cabinets offering yet another clue as to the digital backdrops we’ll have to work with soon. Their form factors also align with home décor rather than the big, black screen we’ve all lived with for some time.

Brand experience: In a hotly competitive market like mattresses, Sleep Number continues to take customer interactivity to the next level. Debuting the 360 Smart Bed at the show both ties the brand to innovative technology while tackling an imperative human issue - sleep. The booth’s design was fun, full of energy and used projection mapping in a way I hope to see utilized more as a way to bring about branded interactive graphics to new dimensions to engage with the customer. Using an Apple-like product story and launch, the retailer moves the consumer’s mind away from the thought that “it’s just a mattress” to the brand as a solution to help you sleep better and thrive. Brands must stay present and in touch, and I think Sleep Number’s effort beautifully demonstrates an existing retailer keeping its brand fresh and in command of its narrative in a market with tremendous online competition.

As the first major U.S. airline to exhibit at CES, Delta garnered a lot of talk at the show. After all, what’s an airline doing in the midst of LG, Sony and Samsung? I had the chance to meet up with NY-based designer, Michelle Collins, Founder and President of M/C Studio NYC, whose firm designed the Delta experience at CES this year. Collins comes from the world of technology mixed with fashion and culture, and she served as executive creative director and producer of the Delta booth and keynote.

What struck me immediately, especially as a frequent Delta customer, was the ability to see the brand in a new light. Suddenly it felt more like a merchant than a tightly crammed fuselage company. The star of the exhibit, Fly Delta is its new customer experience featuring “parallel reality,” which enables Delta to show different content to different customers using the same screen. This could be a major advance for content management on multiple screens and is a brand extension that will take us way beyond the lease line and into a new inter-connected realm.

This year’s CES show took me more than three days to navigate, and despite the crowds, it’s a must to attend at least every two or three years. CES is an excellent way to capture consumer trends that will drive your team discussions and inform your ability to bring the very best “next store” to life.