There has been some buzz in the media over the past couple of years about the role brick-and-mortar stores will play in the industry as we move through the digital age. The truth is, consumers now hold much higher expectations in regards to a store’s physical experience. Brick-and-mortar is undergoing a renaissance, because in reality, the depth of emotional connection is simply impossible to replicate through screens.
As a full experience platform in its own right, the physical store is the most effective marketing strategy. Stores can be spaces of possibility and purpose, humanizing a brand by sharing its values through sensory experience. Designing spaces that lead with confidence must align a brand’s inspiration, business objectives and overall narrative, in order to translate a powerful all-channel experience to the consumer.
When I started my career in design three decades ago, the retail landscape had fewer players. The traditional path to market dictated that brands first launch in physical stores before evolving their presence online, as the capabilities of the digital platform matured. Today, some brands skip the traditional path and launch instead in the digital sphere. The Internet has democratized the path to market and lowered barriers to entry.
The power of digital is notable because it brings the four corners of the world together. It carries the potential to garner global exposure for a brand, yet alters the nature of a brand’s relationship to its consumers as well. The fundamental opportunity for a brand to invest in a storefront is to speak directly to the local audience, so part of my job as the designer is to understand how we get these two worlds to play together. How can a global brand live in a local, physical space?
When consumers interact simultaneously between online and offline platforms, brands are seeking the right balance of attention between what we call the “click versus commit.” Most digital and social platforms are an endless reel of mindless, thumb-stopping moments; designed for maximum distraction, this is what we refer to as “click.”
In contrast, “commit” requires a move offline to build the relationship. Hiding behind the screen removes us from all commitment because we know how to ghost a digital interaction. While you can’t necessarily build a strong relationship through a screen, you can definitely nurture the relationship through it.
Moose Knuckles is a great example of a digital-first retailer that thrived in this retail shift. We recently completed the design of their first store at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, which was powered by Lightspeed. With a strong online presence, this global brand was ready to take their experience to the next level. Their goal was to establish a direct connection with their tribe through the brand experience that they envisioned.
Daring to be open and unexpected, the Moose Knuckles’ store moves away from the traditional design cues prevalent in retail to conceptualize the idea of a modern rebellion. In this showroom-meets-experience concept, the unapologetic nature of the brand begins at the lease line, where the view into the store is purposefully obstructed with a structural form that cleverly disguises a cash point and change room.
Constraining exterior views into the shop drives curiosity and sets the tone of the rest of the experience. Every touchpoint plays into the unexpected: a floating raceway wrapped in fur and hung by leather straps showcases the latest collections and an exposed stockroom creates a sense of behind-the-scenes intrigue. Products are artfully displayed as a silhouette against a glowing backdrop, and limited edition pieces are exhibited in mirrored cabinets. The juxtaposition of the finish palette completes the look, combining polished, manufactured design with the raw materials preserved in their natural state.
The beauty of the space resonates from a confidence that complements the Moose Knuckles story. The store becomes a place for conversation and community, where people are encouraged to embrace the possibilities of being different in a safe space for modern rebellion.
Brick-and-mortar stores showcase the full brand experience because it is the most engaging platform. Physical spaces give consumers the opportunity to engage with the brand in a meaningful way and immerse themselves in the brand’s world – it is online come to life.
As people will continue to browse online, understanding how to play to the strengths of each channel will give you the strongest results. When a consumer makes the commitment to visit your world in real life, and to spend time in it, it cuts through the competing noise from other brands. Trust is built when people can be part of your world, and stores invite them to be a part of the action.
Photography credit: Ben Rahn, A-Frame Studio
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