The last 20 years have seen huge changes in the retail landscape. The focus has shifted from sales to the customer experience, which makes it important—and exciting—for people in my profession to create these customer-centric experiences. The explosion of online retail and social media has given birth to phenomena such as “showrooming”, the practice of test-driving merchandise in a store while seeking best price and shopping online, with the implication being that a compelling “in-store experience” can work to the retailer’s advantage. Through this constant evolution, there is one certainty: this industry will continue to see change happening at exponential speed. The retail industry is intrinsically tied to technology and those advancements. Retail has become a multi-channel world where bricks-and-mortar stores, online and mobile channels will continue to co-exist. Retailers will need to keep re-balancing, based on the changing demographics and needs.
Most exciting about the future of retail and its design practice, is the guaranteed change that comes with reinvention and evolution. We have no crystal ball into the future, but the last 10 years tells us to expect anything. Despite what many people have said, I firmly believe that the bricks-and-mortar store will not vanish. Today, we may not be able to accurately visualize the future version of what a store would be, but I believe consumers will continue to crave and demand places for social interactions. Shopping is an integral part of our social fabric. Jobs in retail design won’t disappear; they’ll just have to re-adjust.
Shopping is an integral part of our social fabric.
Though my core training started in interior design, my daily conversations and interactions do involve business and strategy. These include people in business analytics, real estate, branding and marketing, research, technology, web + mobile applications, human resources—and the list goes on. Having worked for 10+ years in part-time retail jobs, I’ve become sensitive to the operational realities of the science behind retail and customer service.
Students interested in a career in retail design should approach their education with multiple disciplines and sectors in mind. An appreciation for the complexities of a “retail ecosystem” will help to develop context for any designer. Using your own experience as a shopper will serve as additional context for students.
Design is a problem-solving tool, and when done well, can help set retailers apart from their competitors. Designed spaces are most successful when they thoughtfully consider the people using them. They can go beyond being the given environment where people shop, to actually evoking an emotional response. After all, everyone likes to be treated respectfully and engaging in great experiences!