Nobody wants another store designed for the ‘gram. Seriously, brands. Cut it out.
We don’t want more stores covered in kitschy wallpaper that is entirely designed to be a selfie backdrop. We were under the impression we were visiting a shop, not an oversized photo booth. We also don’t care for the third-rate art installation hanging in the middle of the room. No, if we wanted art, we would go to a real museum.
We’ll all remember 2018 as the year that visiting retail stores got downright nutty. Rather than focusing on the mainstays of shopping–products and customer experience–brands spent a lot of time making stores a kind of carnival funhouse, with plenty of opportunities for customers to get great photos for social media. In fact, many brands seemed inspired by pop-ups like the Museum of Ice Cream or Candy-Topia, which serve no purpose but to provide backdrops for selfies.
The problem with this “immersive and experiential retail”–to use industry jargon–is that it often has little to do with what a brand is actually selling. They can be fun, but they’re ultimately a superficial gimmick that does not make customers’ lives better in any way, besides giving them a good photo op.
In many ways, these experiences were a desperate effort to get the customer’s attention, and woo them into stores. For years, there has been a decline in foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores, culminating in the retail apocalypse of 2017 when nearly 7,000 stores across the country closed. Industry analysts predicted that 2018 would be even more devastating for the retail sector. In response, many brands scrambled to get customers’ attention, throwing weird, whacky ideas against the wall, seeing which ones would stick. At first, these colorful stores were delightful and entertaining, but over time, as they became more common, they all began to blend together.
In 2019, we think it is time for some of the flashiest of these in-store experiences to die off. No more flower walls. No more random art hanging from the ceiling. Customers want a thoughtfully designed in-store experience. Winning brands will focus less on the superficial, eye-catching installations, and more on the parts of the store that actually address real needs. Take M.Gemi, for instance, where store attendants can pull out your online profile so they can instantly bring you styles and sizes that fit you. Or Everlane, where cashiers can log you into your digital profile and use the credit card you have on file.
The bottom line is this: Actually solving a customer’s problem, like saving them time and effort, is worth a lot more than a gimmicky flower wall. Here are the four retail trends that need to go away next year.
The Instagrammable pop-up
Listen, brands, we’re tired of Instagrammable pop-ups. For months, brands have tried to outdo one another with stores designed primarily to be photogenic. But these glorified photo booths are all beginning to blend together.
Take, for instance, Yankee Candle’s Candle Power pop-up in New York City, which opened a year ago. In a SoHo space, the brand opened what it described as a “multi-sensory experience” that involved a series of rooms that looked inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. One room had flowers the size of an adult human. Another was an upside-down living room, so you could take a picture that looked like you were falling from the sky. A few blocks away, eyewear brand Prive Reveau had launched a pop-up with an identical premise. It featured a series of backdrops: One looked like the inside of a subway, another looked like a graffiti-covered wall, and another featured a blue space with fake clouds hanging above.
What did any of this have to do with candles or eyewear, you ask? Great question. They seemed fun, but these experiences weren’t all that different from the many other Instagrammable pop-ups on the market now, including the Rose Mansion, and the Museum of Pizza. The pop-up didn’t help customers understand how the brand’s candles or eyewear are different from others on the market.
It’s not enough to simply get the customer’s attention: You need to say something meaningful about your brand and your products. Or even better: Go beyond storytelling. Instead, why don’t you create a product that actually improves people’s lives, and introduce customers to this product at your store?
The monochromatic store
One way that brands have tried to get customers’ attention in stores is by playing with color, which has led to the trend of the monochromatic store. COS, for instance, introduced a store that only featured nudes and grays. In Paris, a store called Le White is, as the name suggests, an entirely white store. Theory hired the design firm Nendo to create nine stores in different cities that are striking because of their grayscale color palette.
Makeup brand Glossier’s recent stores have been a study in millennial pink, which happens to be the color of its logo. Its San Francisco pop-up, at the well-known sandwich joint Rhea’s Cafe, featured an exterior painted pink, plus walls painted pink on the inside. Glossier products, whose packaging is largely pink, were sprinkled throughout.
While monochromatic stores give off a vibe of an elevated modern art gallery, they’ve become a tired cliché. What’s more problematic is that it is very easy for form to overtake function in a store like this. If customers come into the store with the goal of testing out a product they have seen online, they may find it hard to locate this item since the store isn’t organized according to product category, but rather by color.
These days, retail companies are trying to lure customers away from the comfort of shopping in their pajamas using “experiences”–preferably experiences that people will be compelled to post about on social media. The king of such experiences? The e-commerce mattress company Casper, which this year opened a nap bar called The Dreamery in SoHo. The conceit: You pay Casper $25 for a 45-minute nap in a Casper-branded space. On the one hand, you have to applaud the effort. At least Casper was encouraging customers to interact with Casper’s products, and the concept was 100% on brand. But it required too much effort (and money!) on the part of the consumer. You might do it once for the ‘gram, but for Casper, it’s hardly a sustainable retail model.
Calling stores anything other than stores
Nike’s new “House of Innovation”–a fancy new name for its global flagship stores–in New York might well be the future of retail. There’s a digital app that works seamlessly with the store, a speed shop where you can pick up clothes you reserved online without ever talking to anyone, and of course, hundreds of shoes.
But there’s also a lot of lingo to describe what’s fundamentally just a very large store. During a tour of the place, John Hoke, Nike’s head of design, described it as a plaza, a museum, a gallery, a carnival ride, and even likened it to the Agora in Greece. The ground floor of the store is literally called the arena. My favorite analogy? “I think retail in many ways . . . is the last great campfire,” Hoke says. “People are coming together to convene, it’s the idea of being online by yourself and then together with everyone else.”
Calling stores by anything other than a store is pure spin. It’s a trend others employ–Apple, most notably, refers to its stores as “town squares.” And it’s easy to speculate on why. The old retail typologies–malls, mom-and-pop shops–aren’t as stable as they once were, and retail designers are grasping for new metaphors. But a store is still a store. In 2019, this terrible jargon must die.