The Voice of Design: Retail

The ground is shifting under your feet and your standing is not as solid as you come to expect living on this big ball in space. Where are you exactly?

You’re living inside retail. More so, you’re living in the midst of a number of dramatic changes happening to the industry.

One. Digital and physical commerce are meeting and going on a few awkward dates as they try to figure each other out.

Yeah, it is just that, the geek (digital) taking out the super model (physical). While volume of sales is still in physical stores, the super model knows there's a need to adapt. Kiosks are starting to look more sustainable as they adapt the looks of Best Buy express stationsCosmopolitan self serve wine in Vegas and less like their awkward attempts in the 90s we'd all love to forget. 

This is just one aspect of digital and physical getting together—QR Codes, Near Field, and a truck load of other attempts are mingling. The good news is the reward is large enough to create plenty of experimentation. The bad news is nothing is an overwhelming winner at this point. 

Two. Mobility is more than just a form of transportation; it’s a growing part of how people expect to buy in the moment versus as a planned event. 

Remember the story of the first guy who never left home, bought everything online and was proud to say he spent a year shuttered in his apartment on his PC (because you know he didn't have an Apple)? The next one is someone who buys everything they need via a mobile device and never buys from a cash register ever again—while remaining a social, living being. Mobile purchases are certainly still infantile, but they’re growing like a well fed hog heading for the state fair. 

Three. Design of experiences isn't just lipstick and a good-looking sow, it’s real and those who get it are going to win on the sales percentage per square inch game (yes, inch).

Last week a good friend, former head of design at Best Buy, James Damian, told me an amazing story about a meeting with Apple and Best Buy. It can't be shared here, but if you run into me at FUSE, I'll share it. It epitomizes the differences between Best Buy and a retailer like Apple who exceeded Tiffany's per square foot sales numbers and has since that time doubled that number. The design of experiences in retail is going to hit the stride of an Olympic runner in the next five years. Yes, it does mean measuring success by the square inch, not by the foot. Keep pace.

Four. Culture designed to be sustainable is evermore important on a landscape full of potential failures, fiascos, and chances to step on your poncho (yeah, that hurts). 

Here's another story about a local retailer, known for design but less known for designed culture. The culture of celebrating failure is a great one to spit out and smile, but how often does it really happen in the dark caverns of corporate America. Really? Well, Target has practiced this at the highest level of the organization and it shows up when things don't go as planned. They have recently stepped in an icky pile with the "shops at Target" concept, but culturally they will learn from this and design something better. They have done it before and with certainty, the experimentation within Target is far from complete. This behavior is essential to deal with the changing landscape of retail. 

The voice of design is strong in retail—it always has been. Now more than ever, the behaviors and thinking that goes with the voice of design is something essential to retail success. 

Aaron Keller
Managing Principal



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