Transcending the Physical
Visual Merchandising and Retail Design|February 2021
James Breaks, Associate Director (Design) at rpa:group, London, writes on what makes for an authentic retail experience in the post-pandemic world, one that drives a meaningful brand experience and engagement.

With the prevalence of omnichannel thinking, it is very tempting to consider quantity as a measure of success – the more channels the better. This was never the case pre-pandemic, nor will it be as we evolve through it. Instead, as the pandemic has touched all aspects of our lives and forced us to redefine our ‘normal’, the time has come to reconsider our definitions and approach to retail thinking.

We tend to define retail in terms of physical and ‘other’; physical retail being a bricks-and-mortar presence, and ‘other’ being the multitude of experiences and events, many of which are technology-driven, that may vary in their effectiveness.

There is no argument that physical touch is one of the key senses that has served retail most efficiently throughout its history. At a subconscious psychological level, we still measure the value of something by gauging its weight, or its intrinsic qualities by its texture and feel. It still holds true today that products that feel heavier, relative to a competitor’s product, will be judged to be of superior value.

However, human experience extends well beyond this singular sense, and our approach to retail should fundamentally consider this. By addressing the other four senses, we create our building blocks for lasting, authentic customer experiences and true engagement. To shape these experiences, we also need to reflect on the brand’s core values and use them to inform our use of the senses.

Two great examples of sensory experiences on the High Street are beauty brands Lush and L’Occitane. They belong to the same sector but harness their core values and brand assets in different but by no means less effective ways.

The sheer power of the aroma wafting from Lush’s open shop fronts permeates for a considerable stretch of any high street, so that by the time the customer reaches the store, their senses have been activated, inspired and their mind is primed to shop. Clear and abundant display drives ease of selection and price points suit the accessibility of the product. There is a simplicity that matches not only the brand ethos, but the price point too and creates a harmony that is hard to refuse.

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