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Understanding the Variety of Retail Design Projects

By Miller Zell

A well-designed retail environment is crucial to the success of your business. The way customers perceive your brand inside a store depends on the physical experience they have with it. The right ambience, graphics, colors, lighting and digital integration can make customers feel more comfortable and willing to spend money.

It also fosters loyalty and brand advocacy.

There are, however, a wide variety of types of branded environments, with a diversity of primary purposes. So let’s undertake a basic review of various types of retail design projects.


Services strategy and design Walmart   Walmart wanted to lean into its digital footprint, creating an environment where customers could use the Walmart app to optimize their experience. 


Store of the Future  

The “Store of the Future” design project is a speculative environment set up to test elements and technology that might be adopted in the future. The project focuses on old-fashioned goals – creating the best possible customer experience and thereby increasing overall revenue – with cutting-edge features, such as virtual dressing rooms, touchless checkout, in-store app use, real-time analytics and robotic associates.

A “Store of the Future” tracks the simultaneous evolution of shopper and branded environment and the technology that binds the two. It seeks to reduce friction and increase customer delight and loyalty, while creating more convenience, personalization and spending. Moreover, it seeks to improve and augment associate experiences and store operations, as well as marketing and merchandising. 

A great “Store of the Future” isn’t about impressing customers with science fiction. It’s about accurately anticipating the evolving reality of the customer experience, and then guiding future store design at scale.


Kefi - Front side 
Kefi's 25,000-square-foot prototype combined technology, adaptability and immersive storytelling that touches all the senses.


Flagship  Store

A flagship store is a beacon of a brand’s aspirational identity. While the prime directive of a typical retail store is selling and creating revenue, a flagship leads with elevated visual and experiential elements that impress and engage customers.

Flagship stores are typically large and located in prestigious or historically important locations in big cities. Whereas retail chains with thousands of locations need design consistency that can be realized at scale, a flagship store design purposefully indulges in opulence to celebrate a brand in its most innovative and memorable way.

It also can serve as a testing location, not unlike a “Store of the Future.” Experiential décor and digital touchpoints that attract crowds at a flagship often end up getting scaled as useful experiential offerings for locations across the country and world. 

A flagship store also can’t be static. Just like the brand it showcases, it requires upkeep and updates that stay ahead of customer expectations. The opening of a flagship store can generate much positive publicity, but it also creates a responsibility to maintain its elevated status.


joanns sew table  
Joann had conceptual drawings for its flagship store but it needed a knowledgeable partner who could transform striking pictures into precisely engineered fixtures and displays and then install them.


Design for Rollout (Scale)

Retail design for rollout at scale must be purposeful. Unlike a “Store of the Future,” or flagship store, a significant part of its strategic conception is how the design project can be efficiently managed, procured, kit packed, shipped, installed and supported & evaluated afterwards.

Retail design at scale needs to solve problems (front end), and it needs to be on budget, on time and scalable (back end). That means you start with strategic research, developing an understanding of both brand and customer. Value engineering, which reduces costs without sacrificing quality,  then guides design from modeling to material selection to fixture assembly methods to end-user ergonomics to environmental impact, a process that continues all the way through installation.

Design for rollout is about solving customer and associate pain points and easing friction along the path to purchase and doing so while also celebrating the brand. Further, great scalable design is adaptable for a variety of store footprints, even anticipating a range of needs based on geography and region. 

Well-executed design for rollout is a complex collaborative process that focuses on a clear outcome: providing ROI.



reliant energy  
Reliant needed distracted Walmart customers to stop and talk. It needed to create a new strategy and store design to better engage and inform shoppers.


Store-within-a-store (SWAS)

A “store-within-a-store” is  a retailer collaboration where one invites the other to set up its own branded environment within its walls for mutual benefit. Or it can be showcase areas for a retailer’s private brands.

It’s a popular concept with many big box retailers, and it often increases customer engagement. It can increase shopper convenience (banking inside a grocery store) or offer surprise and delight (a favorite coffee shop inside a department store).  

SWAS can increase foot traffic, enhance the customer experience and foster a retailer collaboration that generates new revenue for both parties. 

In some cases, the SWAS concept can be executed as a rotation of a temporary “pop-up store,” where the host rotates in local specialty retailers that delight customers  and prove mutually beneficial for both brands.


Citizens Lawn on the D  
A pop-up in the right place with the right design can establish or build a brand’s reputation.


Pop-up (temporary)

A pop-up store is temporary by design, whether the time frame is six weeks or one night. It could be seasonal, such as a designated area that sells Halloween or Christmas decorations, or specifically designed to be celebrated for its spontaneous appearance, such as an unannounced pop-up restaurant.

Pop-ups can be used to establish or build up new brands   or to provide a new venue for old ones. They can be decidedly purposeful or delightfully surprising – thereby creating word-of-mouth or media buzz.

Execution matters. A pop-up in the right place with the right design can establish or build a brand’s reputation. They also can become venues to efficiently test new products or experiences that could find their way into larger, permanent branded environments.


Beta store  
Beta environments can lead to purposeful innovation

Beta Environments

A retail beta environment is used to test various aspects of branded environments – even an entire store prototype. It tests design elements with potential customers before these elements are adapted into existing stores. 

Creating beta environments enables retailers to implement, test and measure different solutions before adopting at scale. Then they can provide designers feedback that leads to the most purposeful design development that best meets the branded environment’s needs.

Beta environments can lead to purposeful innovation while providing retailers peace of mind and design understanding in advance of implementation at scale, which minimizes risk and maximizes ROI.


Miller Zell, after nearly six decades designing and executing branded environments, provides clients strategic expertise for each of these retail design projects.

We’d love to discuss your latest retail design projects.

Or please read our ebook, Great In-Store Environments: Five Strategies to Solve Pain Points and Connect with Customers.


5 Strategies for Great In-Store Environments



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