Keeping the Doors Open | Retailers Fight Shopping Online

open 24hours sign

The days of stores competing against the shop next door are over. The 21st century has seen the retail sector explode, moving from shop fronts to global fronts, with successful chains earning billions of dollar each year.

However, even the most successful brands are being hit by what is one of the worst downturns in history, with physical, built retail space the first collateral cut. 

This is due to a massive surge in virtual shopping. The appeal of buying Christmas presents in your pajamas, buying groceries when the kids are in bed and sneakily lusting after your dream holiday/car/handbag in the mundane office cubical is an easy thing to sell.

As a result, it is taking the retail world and splitting it into two distinct sections – the built and the virtual, with the built taking a very hard hit.

Retailers, however, are hitting back with the aid of the construction and design industry. They are re-attracting shoppers through various means that relate to the overall advanced interior design fitouts that are essential for built retailers to stay in business.

apple store sydney

Multi-Functioning Stores

The days of the specialist store are waning. In order to stay in business, stores need to be designed as multi-functional spaces that offer more than just the standard shopping experience, a concept explored in the Harvard Business Review’s ‘Retailers Are Reinventing Shopping’. 

“Today’s retail innovators are beginning to take steps towards reinventing the locations known as “stores” into hubs that help people live better lives,” says Umair Haque, director of Havas Media Labs and author of Betterness: Economics for Humans. “It’s not that stores will stop selling stuff—it’s that they’re going to have to prepare do much more, at both the high-end and the low-end.”

Stores are offering additional details, services such as crafts classes in craft stores, cosmetics classes in make-up retailers and cooking classes in housewares stores.

As such, these outlets must now be designed as functional, operating spaces rather than simply focusing on sales. Spaces and furniture need to be multi-functional, ensuring the shop focusses not only on the retail aspect but also on service provision.

glass apple store


Goods being sold need to be a part of every aspect of the built retail store, from the lighting and fitout to the overall atmosphere created. A store is a physical manifestation of a brand and must be presented as such. It is no longer acceptable or feasible to create the cookie cutter shop front; the function has to directly correlate with the form.

Global branding masterminds Apple are a prime example of this mentality. The storefront is not only plastered with Apple paraphernalia, interactive software and almost all of the company’s current range, but its overall atmospheric design is modern, simple and innovative, features that relate to the brand’s overall image projection. Brands are perceived as they are presented, so it stands to reason that a cookie-cutter storefront will be treated by shoppers as undesirable.

OPSM Luxottica eye hub


In their report ‘Reinventing Retail: A New Path to profitable growth’, Booz & Co. suggest that being the biggest in business can often lead to going bust.

“First, bigger—more square footage and larger assortments—isn’t always better,” says the report. “Smaller formats with assortments that are more tailored to regional and local shopper demographics and needs can both simplify the shopping experience and reduce inventory carrying costs.”

Overwhelming shoppers with a space that feels large and cold is one of the main reasons shoppers are increasingly avoiding stores – it’s tiring! It is up to the retailer and their chosen interior designer to create a space that doesn’t overwhelm the consumer.

It also isn’t feasible for most retailers to think big anymore. With the retail sector in a downturn, going bigger and gaining more overheads is often a road to foreclosure.

“Retailers must continuously reevaluate their footprint based on store profitability, growth potential, and geographic reach,” says the report.

OPSM Luxottica eye hub


Technology, the entity that is threatening to ruin built retailers is also aiding in saving them. Retailers are fighting fire with fire. Technological aspects of a fitout not only allow the store to run more efficiently, but offer to act as a visual competitor to the online realm, with those technological elements both impressing consumers and allowing consumers in the built space some of the same elements they find online.

Extensive use of technology and digital signage creates a sense of wonder and a constant, but economical sense of newness,” says Darrell Rigby, head of Global Retail and Global Innovation practices at Bain & Co, and author of the HBR article, ‘The Future of Shopping’.

While Apple stores might jump to mind when discussing technologically-inclusive retail fitouts, there are a number of highly successful retailers that are not information technology related but are making the most of new technological elements to compete in a difficult business. These include Jeans West stores with their ‘bum cam’, a video camera that effectively shows the back of jeans so as to allow consumers to fully assess the clothes they are trying on, and Melbourne’s OPSM Luxottica eye hub, with its infrared desks and video monitoring mirrors.

OPSM Luxottica eye hub

The inclusion of technology into the built retail sector adds a hands-on competitive element to the retail game, with built stores successfully entering the online realm in order to dominate both sectors of the market.

Retailers are facing a major challenge. Economies are challenged and the online world offers a more convenient alternative. It now up to interior designers to work with retailers to turn shopping into an experience and create spaces that reflect this new retail environment.

By Emily D’Alterio

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