Tomorrow’s Retail is More than ‘Just Selling’

Stores must serve a bigger purpose, building communities and offering compelling experiences, to remain relevant, according to recent EHI Retail Institute findings
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Posted December 12, 2019

In 2018, Angela Ahrendts, former Senior VP of Apple, said at a conference that stores are Apple’s biggest product, and that stores today must serve a bigger purpose than just selling, because anybody can do that, faster and cheaper.

In times of growing online shopping, physical stores must prove their worth more than ever, whether that’s through sales, branding or engagement. Smart retailers are building brand communities, as Apple did it in its locations from the very beginning, serving as a meeting point for a tech-orientated demographic with their genius bars and the opportunity for shoppers to test everything in-store at any time.

Meanwhile, many retailers are creating spaces within their stores without a direct pressure to sell. They can be meeting points and hybrid spaces mixing traditional retail, catering, cafés, restaurants, food services, personal services, art galleries, literary readings and lots more. These multifunctional spaces are offering an open experience with interactivity and a flexible use of space for all kinds of events, placing the interaction with the customer in the center of their marketing activities.

Remember that merchandise should also afford surprises to the customer as often as possible. By grouping together products across existing categories and product lines, curated retailing and concept stores create new lifestyle worlds. A creative and exceptional visual merchandising strategy sets the stage and enables a variety of individual accents within highly standardized concepts.

Similar efforts are underway in the food business to turn everyday shopping into a personal experience and inject fun into grocery shopping. Modern supermarkets emphasize freshness, local products and customer proximity. Food stores provide in-house kitchens and cooking classes and invite customers into their fresh departments with glass windows, giving them a front row seat to the action.

Traditional retailers have also begun to understand the necessity of transforming businesses into omnichannel platforms, where online and physical stores work as one and do not need to compete with each other. For their part, more and more pure online players are moving into the brick-and-mortar space and discovering the advantages of traditional retail: physical stores not only bring more attention and drive traffic, but the direct contact makes for a better understanding of the customer.

Online retailers often see their stores as showrooms or shopping windows and set new standards in store design when they translate the specific characteristics of their online brand into a physical space. So the dovetailing of physical and online stores is even generating new retail and interior design concepts.

These insights are based on current retail trends the EHI Retail Institute gleaned from submissions to the EuroShop Retail Design Award 2020 and especially the 30 projects which have reached the final round. The three winners will be announced on February 16, 2020 during EuroShop.  

EHI's Director, Research Store Planning and Design, Claudia Horbert studied economics at the University of Cologne in Germany before she started her career in retail. At one of the biggest department stores in Germany, Galeria Kaufhof, she learned the retail business from scratch. Horbert has worked for the EHI since 1999. As Director Research Store Planning & Design, she is in charge of research and also organizes working groups, international store tours as well as conferences. She is also in charge of the well-acknowledged European Retail Design Awards and is a member of various juries.