Recently, Watt traveled to Europe to attend the Euroshop 2020 trade show in Dusseldorf. Amidst the veritable cornucopia of everything one can conceive of on a shopping list for elements to enhance or ease the physical retail shopping experience, a particular theme seemed to keep popping up in just about every small country-sized booth on the floor: Aspirational design.
What do we mean by that? While there was no shortage of vendors plying their trade of all the everyday things you’d expect a procurement officer would want to see such as hangers, mirrors, shelving, and mannequins, if you looked a little bit closer, the booths that drew the largest crowds had one thing in common. That is, they had each found novel ways to use those otherwise mundane elements to send a lifestyle message to the customer who would ultimately interact with the environment in which they were destined to live in.
For instance, in the case of mannequins, no longer do faceless wooden effigies succeed in capturing the imagination of the consumer. Instead, rather lifelike, if at first unsettling, works of art that look right back at you, frozen in tableaus of kinetic activity tailored to show the apparel being used or worn to their fullest potential, framed by mocked-up environments from a group acro-yoga class to urban scenarios with mannequins being built with each strand of hair, facial features and expressions molded painstakingly onto the model. In some cases, even the clothing itself is part of the mannequin, with the fringes of, say, a trench coat, forever held in place blowing in a non-existent, yet no less dramatic, breeze. What is being displayed is not simply the clothing, but an almost living representation of the ideal personae who would use the product and how and where they would imagine themselves using it, with attention to what values resonate from that brand name as soon as they purchase the outfit.
Taking the same thinking and applying it to all parts of a store environment before ever placing a single product on the shelves, you start to see that much thought is now being focused on selling the experience first and then, technically, closing the “upsell” with the actual product.
It’s becoming increasingly evident in nearly every retail vertical, from fashion to grocery, that customers who shop at a physical retail location have Google-searched, read reviews about, or asked their like-minded/valued friends their thoughts about a retail product or service and expect the experience to dazzle them enough to encourage them to not only liberate some money but spend time taking photos of the store to share with other friends. Why? Because it feels good to be the knowledgeable touchstone of style or experience amongst our social groups. Because successful retail stores are no longer places to “buy stuff.” In essence they are not even stores at all, but galleries of aspiration in lifestyle. Because the most lifelike echoes of the brands we identify with are ourselves, the people who use, wear, eat photograph, share, and sport the values that reside in the product and the places where we buy them to share our unique identities with the rest of the world.
Stores may be seen as “dead” but we are witnessing a resurrection of retail by aspirational expressions of wonder as a reward for showing up in person for the experience.