Main image: Hudson’s Bay Gatineau QC, photo by Adrien Williams

The retail shopping experience took an unprecedented turn in 2020 due to the global impact of Covid-19, with online sales, eCommerce websites and curb-side pickup taking over the traditional in-person shopping experience.

Even before Covid-19, it was clear that online shopping is here to stay and will be a major factor when it comes to retail trends.

According to recent studies, 76% of United States of America (USA) consumers shop online, and it’s projected that there will be more than 300 million USA online shoppers in 2023.

Online shopping provides convenience, optimal pricing and often a greater selection and more options than traditional retail stores.

With such service at your fingertips, the design of a physical store is now more important than ever. And even though the shopping experience shifted in 2020, brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going away. In fact, 46% of consumers still prefer visiting a physical retail location over online shopping, according to a recent survey. When those consumers have a positive in-person shopping experience, 90% will return to that business.

As the economy starts to open up again, many consumers are still opting for the in-store retail route because they can see what they are buying (and speak to a sales representative in person) before purchasing. Businesses that want to give themselves the most opportunities to succeed, blend the best of online and retail shopping (brick-and-click), catering for every type of consumer.

Design innovation is a vital tool for retailers to set themselves apart and draw customers into their stores. Each retail space, regardless of the industry, should incorporate some of these retail design trends to watch in 2021 into their spaces.

1. Brand storytelling/design for demographics

Brand storytelling is more important than ever, as the retail shopping experience has become about more than just browsing and purchasing products. One of the top design trends for 2021 is using the power of storytelling to highlight a brand’s values, which is crucial as retailers try to maintain customers and attract new ones.

“Brand storytelling is the cohesive narrative that weaves together the facts and emotions that your brand evokes,” according to a Forbes article. “In addition to giving your customers reasons why they should buy a product or service, businesses need to start sharing the story behind their brand – why it exists and why it matters – consistently across all communication.” It allows a retailer to stand apart from competitors, build a strong, trusted customer base and create a significant impact.

But businesses also need to be aware of the toll technology has taken on consumers, notably lowering attention spans from 15 to 8,25 seconds. Retailers should experiment with telling their story in diverse ways and through different platforms, such as videos, social media stories, podcasts, blog posts and even through merchandise such as T-shirts and mugs.

When designing a retail space, considering your audience or target demographic is a foundational step in the process. Identifying that group or groups, and then choosing design elements that appeal to that demographic, is a creative and strategic way to draw people into your store.

For instance, a children’s clothing store may want to focus on bright colours on the floor and walls and other pops of colour throughout the space. An outdoor retailer may use more earthy tones in its colour palette and feature imagery of famous trails or mountains.

Because it’s targeted, this appeals to the customised experience consumers expect today.

2. Interactive shopping experience

The shopping experience pivoted in 2020, with online orders and curb-side pickup options dominating the retail scene. Now, as stores begin to welcome customers back in greater numbers, while trying to compete with the appeal of online shopping, retailers need to hone their creativity skills when it comes to the physical design of their stores and how they engage customers with their products. It’s not just about the experience of going to a store in person, but the experience customers have while inside the store.

Retailers must cultivate an atmosphere of safety and comfort, while also providing an entertaining and enjoyable experience that appeals to all customers. And while physically holding or trying out certain items may be limited in some stores, others are still encouraging product interaction – but with safety precautions.

In many stores, one-way aisles, plexiglass barriers at cash registers and signs and floor decals that encourage social distancing are common.

3. Technology

Technology also continues to dominate the retail shopping experience by providing both convenience and entertainment. QR codes, in particular, have become more popular, especially as a contactless way to shop. QR codes can also be used to enter customers into a contest or giveaway, administer feedback surveys and capture discount coupon codes, according to a Small Business Trends article.

Technological enhancements to the retail experience can mean everything from smart technologies to using customer-driven data, such as the following:
• H&M tested a “smart mirror” in its flagship store in New York City in which customers “could voice commands to take selfies that are virtually integrated with the H&M catalogue”, according to Business Insider.
• The Nike Speed Shop, located at the company’s flagship store in New York City, uses local data to stock shelves – and then restock them based on the community’s desire.
• You can use the Target Circle app in the store to find deals for the products in the aisles right near you. Plus, you can use the app to scan barcodes of product to see any available deals or discounts.
• At New Balance’s flagship store in Brighton, Massachusetts, customers can get a 3D scan of their foot, giving them the exact specifications and ideal fit for their shoe purchase.

New Balance Union Park, Parterre LVT in 3mm Lancaster Patina.

4. Increased convenience

The digital shopping capacity is increasing – which means that the physical location for some retailers is decreasing. One out of every four people is an online shopper, according to Oberlo, which means it is not necessary for some retailers to have such a large space or a full inventory on hand at brick-and-mortar locations.

Smaller or fewer shops, combined with eCommerce, provide multiple ways for customers to make purchases, and in 2020 the options of curb-side pickup and buy-online-pickup-in-store grew in popularity. In other words, it’s all about increased convenience and whatever works best for each consumer.

Some retailers are choosing to start from the beginning with a small new location. The goal is to stock the stores with inventory that will best serve the surrounding neighbourhood and community. These smaller spaces allow retailers the flexibility to change the furniture and style more quickly over time, depending on customer needs, products, inventory and trends.

5. Sophisticated and minimalistic merchandising

Although the shopping experience in 2020 may have been more digital than in person, one of the store design trends for this year continues to be sophistication. In the past, retailers often stocked shelves with as many products as possible. Inventory was out for the customer to see and purchase – but one of the store design trends for 2021 is the idea of a more sophisticated shopping experience, which includes greater finesse and refinement in the store design and inventory display.

An angular floorplan, for example, uses curves and angles to provide a sense of sophistication. It is a design that “reduces the amount of display you have but focuses instead on fewer, more popular lines”, according to the Vend blog. This floorplan can be particularly effective if you’re looking to highlight a particular product.

Xtend Barre, Parterre LVT in 3mm Starry Oak

A more sophisticated shopping experience can also mean that less inventory is displayed on purpose.

“In retail, space conveys value,” the Vend blog explains. “The more space there is in a store or display, the higher the perceived value of the merchandise. This is why many luxury retailers display items in standalone cases while discount stores overstuff their shelves with merchandise.”

6. Comfortable and inviting home-like design

Retailers want customers to feel safe and comfortable, and a lot of that stems from an inviting home-like design, which is a growing retail trend that has become increasingly popular in the interior design industry as a whole.

This kind of design means creating a comfortable, inviting, home-like atmosphere. Many in the restaurant and hospitality industry have incorporated these design elements, and now retail stores are seeing the appeal of creating this type of atmosphere. The idea is that if customers feel comfortable, they’ll want to spend time in the store and/or revisit the space in the future.

Wood flooring can make a space warm and welcoming; engineered hardwood and wood-look LVT are great for this trend.

Many stores are also including different services in their spaces that add to the experience of shopping in person. For example, supermarkets and larger retailers host coffee chain restaurants within their stores, so shoppers can get their caffeine fix while picking up the items they need.

7. The power of social media

The power and prevalence of social media have never been greater. According to the Harvard Business Review, social media spending increased from 13,3% of marketing budgets in February 2020 to 23,2% in June 2020, and “companies are seeking a historic return on their social media investments”.

Phote courtesy of Pop Up Mob

Even before Covid-19, retailers used social media to provide business updates, announce valuable information, highlight new products, offer giveaways and more. In 2020, social media also became an important communication tool as posts featured updated business hours, safety and cleaning protocol information, and adapted business models, such as take-out only or curb-side pickup.

With shoppers active on social media, companies who are designing or redesigning their physical locations should consider an aesthetically pleasing space that shoppers will want to photograph or pose in front of – once they feel safe to do so. This social media phenomenon not only makes the shopping experience interactive, but it is also a terrific way for companies and businesses to get free marketing and further promote their brand.

Brian Weltman, chief executive officer of Retail Habitats, is seeing this shift in the trends of retail store design. “A visit to a brick-and-mortar space is more about the experience than anything else. For this reason, we are now taking what used to be considered much-needed real estate for products and reallocating it for decorative installations for the ever-so-important Instagram-able moment,” he said. “Retailers are starting to see that the equity social media posts can bring to their brands is more valuable than just a product on a shelf.”

To accomplish this as a designer, there are countless elements you can feature. It can begin with eye-catching floor or wall installations in interesting patterns like basket weave or herringbone. Then, experiment with neon or chalkboard signage with catchy phrases, paired with intriguing backdrops for photo opportunities. Retail trends today are seeing brands get creative about design elements that inspire customers to take photos inside the store and share them on social media. Integrating an Instagram selfie station is another fun option.

8. Pop-up shops

Just as companies are designing stores with fun new accents for social media opportunities, they are also setting up pop-up stores with the same motivation, and outdoor pop-up shoes have especially been on the rise.

These unique, “for a limited time” experiences appeal to millennial consumers and provide many opportunities to spread brand awareness.

In 2020, outdoor pop-up shops created a way for customers to shop in a safer, more open-air environment. In one example, the Chicago Makers Pop-Up Shop opened in December 2020 for the holiday season, featuring 30 locally owned businesses, and has since found a permanent home.

Pop-ups are spreading to eCommerce businesses, who are opening temporary stores to test out a neighbourhood and get a feel for the performance of their products or services in a real physical space. This can be a preliminary step to opening a permanent location, although some eCommerce retailers do this only temporarily.

Photo courtesy of Pop Up Mob

9. Natural lighting

If the space allows it, it’s best to incorporate as much natural light (or the effect of natural lighting) as possible into a retail environment. According to RetailBiz, natural light is a mood booster; it also enhances the appeal of products and allows consumers to get a more precise sense of colour.

“Choosing the correct colour temperature, which is measured by its K (kelvin) rating, of LED bulbs is integral to a retail space,” according to Alcon Lighting. “Colour temperature can create either a warm or cold environment and affect how products are displayed.” The company recommends 4 000 to 4 500K bulbs for a natural lighting effect, which is optimal for retail dressing rooms and grocery stores.

Sweet Mia Nail Spa, Parterre LVT in 3mm Snowy Oak

10. Wayfinding for floor designs

Retail stores have long used flooring design to help shoppers navigate their way through different sections within the store, but it took on a new meaning in 2020. Floor decals, graphics and signs now indicate one-way aisles and remind shoppers to socially distance.

But wayfinding can also be aesthetically pleasing. It’s common in department stores and supermarkets to install flooring in a specific pattern that guides shopper traffic throughout the store. As it turns out, flooring design is both an art and a science.

Retail design is especially important this year, as businesses look to please existing customers and attract new ones. From residential-commercial, or “resimercial”, design and pop-up shops to increased lighting and aesthetically pleasing wayfinding options, consider some of these retail design trends to watch in 2021 to take any retail space to the next level.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to Parterre Flooring for the information in this article.

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