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Ten “Must-Dos” for Retail Design at Scale

By Miller Zell
  • Procurement
  • Ten “Must-Dos” for Retail Design at Scale

Great retail design based upon strategic research and focused consumer insights is a critical starting point for developing branded environments. But it’s only a starting point. And even a well-conceived starting point means little if the proposed new/refined customer experience cannot be implemented chain-wide at a reasonable investment level.

So here’s a 10-point checklist to guide branded environments projects from concept to completion at scale.


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Design with the Shopper Journey in Mind

Great retail design answers the “Why?” for every store and omnichannel element and anticipates potential friction along all paths to purchase. All elements of this checklist are about serving customers by meeting them where they are and guiding them to where they want to go in their shopping journey.

This means anticipating as many shopping scenarios as possible across all channels and providing an ideal experience. This is about communicating to all your customers that they come first, however they wish to engage with your brand.

Infuse Your Brand

Customers should feel and know your brand inside your stores, even where your brand name or logo isn’t displayed.

That starts with cohesive design touching on every element — graphics, fixtures, décor, furniture, print and digital signage, etc. Every part of your branded environment should be appealing and purposeful, connecting and serving a diversity of customers and thereby building brand attraction and loyalty. The overriding goal is celebrating the brand and then your products. 

You’re creating a customer experience inside your store that is also a brand experience that distinguishes you from your competitors.

Create Memorable Experiences

Incorporating impactful customer experiences into the creative process of retail design is both art and science, as it focuses on providing an ideal engagement with customers that should enhance their connection with your brand while also delivering meaningful purpose and value.

Retailers who studiously focus on customer experience driving their store design ease pain points for shoppers and associates, create positive feelings — both conscious and unconscious — and foster brand loyalty.

Prioritize Wayfinding

Sometimes customers want to browse and are in no hurry while shopping. But more often, they want to find products as quickly as possible and get home. Now accustomed to the ease of online searches, they want that convenience to be part of the in-store experience. So, whether it’s in-store print and digital signage, interactive kiosks or downloadable apps, it serves customers to prioritize wayfinding in multiple ways.

While print signage and aisle markers are still important, apps, digital signage and kiosks make it possible to provide more information in addition to detailed maps to specific products. They can be integrated in real time with inventory systems and can be easily updated as product locations change. Further, they can provide useful data that can be employed to understand how customers navigated and interacted with your store and its products.

As noted in a Google survey, “Two in three shoppers who tried to find information within a store say they didn’t find what they needed, and 43% of them left frustrated. And 71% of in-store shoppers who use smartphones for online research say their device has become more important to their in-store experience.”

Create a Seamless Omnichannel Experience

An effective omnichannel strategy contains consistent messaging, visuals and a seamless shopping experience for customers by ensuring that your brand is presented the same way from platform to platform.

Today’s customers want convenience, consistency, communication and personalization across all touchpoints of their shopping journey, no matter where it starts or ends.

Not only should retailers prioritize reducing friction across all paths to purchase, they also can use these diverse paths for data collection to continually refine their stores, their apps and their personalization and loyalty programs.

Appeal to Mission Shoppers

Trip missions were changing before the pandemic and changed dramatically during it. They will continue to evolve as we go forward, and it’s critical to track and analyze shopping trends and your customer wants and needs, particularly mission shoppers.

According to a Path To Purchase Survey that asked how shoppers’ habits had changed compared to a year ago, 27 percent of shoppers go inside fewer stores and try to get multiple types of products at one store, while 35 percent said that the “instant gratification” of an in-store purchase is why they make store trips instead of shopping online.

Taking care of these mission-driven shoppers who prioritize convenience and an efficient experience is critical.

Deliver On-Brand Décor

Make sure the representation of your brand identity is consistent through all uses of logos, colors, messaging, packaging, typography, signage and décor.

The store as a whole as well as the sum of its diverse parts must be on-brand, as this comforts loyal customers and attracts new customers.

Store managers and associates should be trained to maintain on-brand décor, while an official style guide and brand management software can support the cause.

Engineer Cost-Effective Fixtures

Ensure on-brand design and efficient execution of fixtures programs by paying close attention to every detail from ideation through installation. Evaluate each fixture element and determine its core function. Then identify engineering opportunities that add value while maintaining or improving functionality.

This includes understanding material selections, as well as fixture assembly methods and end-user ergonomics that best fit your environment, on-site resources and budget. Always be open to potential value engineering that could reduce costs and streamline custom installation.

Integrate Digital Messaging Where It Adds Value

Messaging to customers within your environments requires a thoughtful approach into delivering the right message, at the right time and right locations to deliver impact.

Deciding between digital signage and print signage doesn’t have to be an either-or decision; in many cases, they can complement and support each other when and where it makes sense. When planning out digital messaging opportunities, make sure the experience is purposeful, solves customer and associate pain points and checks the boxes on measurable ROI that matters most.

Beyond the hardware, pay attention to digital content. It works best when it’s carefully managed, customized and localized and when it is driven by real-time customer data.

Design with Implementation in Mind

Great retail design isn’t about the drawings and renderings. It’s about how well it’s adapted in stores at scale. That means even during the early stages of developing store concepts, the design process intersects with logistics and installation.

Therefore, before rollout, insist on seeing designs realized by reviewing prototypes so you can give feedback before moving on to procurement and production. In-person surveys make sure fixtures match the design and can be precisely implemented. Request the development of rollout-ready, clearly delineated kits of parts that accommodate a range of footprints and investment levels. Adopt an installation protocol guided by project managers who collaborate with design development, procurement, production, warehousing and boots-on-the-ground quality control.

Retail design at scale starts with research that focuses on solving customer and associate pain points and creating optimized experiences inside your branded environment. But it requires a holistic understanding of each point of the process that only ends when it’s implemented and begins returning value to your brand.


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