The rise of online shopping over the last decade has been the biggest single obstacle our industry has ever faced. More and more products are being bought online, traditional retailers are being forced to re-evaluate their very reason for existing. With many simply forced to take the if-you can’t-beat-them-join-them approach.

The Internet has created a global shopping centre where researching to find the right product at the right price is all at the click of a finger. No more so than with the more tech savvy consumers who’re shopping around for products they can’t get on their local high street.

But for us, sometimes you just can you beat the ‘real’ shopping experience. For example, a member of the Made In Place team recently purchased a new road bike, and after months of researching, they were about to click buy from a reputable German company that retail only online. Buying direct from their web store means you cut out the middleman (the bike shops), so you get a very high spec’d bike at a very competitive price.

However, this was a large chunk of change they were spending, so wanted to get the purchase right. They wanted the bikes geometry to fit correctly, to be sporty but comfortable enough to sit on for a full days riding. This could only be guarantee by seeing it, taking it for a test ride, and talking to somebody who knows way more about bikes. So that’s what they did.

They visited several local bike shops, and in the end bought the perfect bike, but it was the store that really helped them make that final purchase decision. They spent exactly the same amount as they would have buying from the online company, but with a whole heap more customer satisfaction.

It was just small little things like the fact the bikes were displayed in an art gallery-like setting, having to make an appointment to view the store, and that they could see the quality of the workshops where they would build the bike. All these things added to the buying experience. That experience added to the buying decision, something you just can’t get that from a jpeg.

A purchase like that is very emotive; you need to buy into the concept of that brand. Only a retail store can provide that, online you are simply too detached. The way this store was set up is challenging the status quo. Fighting back and testing our perceptions of what a bike shop should be.

Don’t get us wrong; we’re not anti online shopping. We regularly buy online, it serves a purpose and there are some fantastic e-tailers. If you want something unique, something you simply can’t get from a local store, something you don’t need to try before you buy, or you’ve purchased it before so you know exactly what you’re getting, then perfect. We’re just saying sometimes you need more. And its not just big-ticket items we’re talking about here too.

A new pair of shoes or denim jeans, you need to try them on. You sometimes need a store that makes it easy to find the right style and fit, which provides a relaxed environment where you’re happy to spend a little time trying a few different pairs on. Easy to browse shelving at Paperchase in Bishopsgate

Then back to our friends at Paperchase again. A birthday card for a loved one for example. It needs to be carefully selected, check the message inside and feel it in your hand. Those online cards just don’t feel the same; its lazy shopping and shows little thought.

Online shopping is getting to its peak in terms of user experience. The high street is starting to fight back, the large chain stores are fighting back. And they’re doing that by analysing and improving their retail interior design. That’s exactly what my bike retailer had done.

We’re also seeing retailers with a large online presence reaching out to retail design and its practices to lure online shoppers back to their physical stores. Here retail design can be properly utilised to sell their products. From Apple’s touchy feely megastores to your small independent music store with added listening café, they’re all fighting to get online shoppers offline and in stores again.

As retail interior designers we need to face these challenges head on with ingenuity and imagination. We need to provide consumers with a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, a reason to visit and buy from a physical store.

It is important we look at how the use of space, interior design, colour, lighting, ambience and materials all serve to create environments that engages and attract shopper’s offline and back into our stores.

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