When George Gottl, chief creative officer and cofounder of Amsterdam-based strategic global design consultancy UXUS, takes on a project, he starts by diving into the psychology of the customer. With retail, specifically, that means exploring everything from the energy of the space to the purpose of the brand. “We are always looking through the customer lens,” he says, “because it’s always about them. They’re the empowered ones.”
Today, consumers want to be able to experience a brand holistically, not only in real life, but also digitally and through meaningful moments. Here, Gottl highlights a handful of brands that are responding to what he describes as retail’s three pillars of transformation: from static to agile, from transactional to emotional, and from purchase to purpose.
Static to Agile
“This year, Balenciaga partnered with online video game Fortnite to create a virtual store [based off the Paris flagship designed by Berlin-based Gonzalez Haas] within the game. The world is a duality right now. It’s about the unreal and the real. Balenciaga understands that and knows how to reach this target group. It’s about this fluidity between worlds and mixing the high and low together. The Fortnite hoodie costs $725, and when it dropped, it sold out.”
Transactional to Emotional
“Retail has to create moments. For instance, the SKP-S luxury department store in Beijing is a mind-blowing experience that marries art and commerce. [Designed by the in-house team of Seoul-based eyewear company Gentle Monster, the concept was executed in partnership with London firm Sybarite and blurs the boundaries between the human and digital realms with a series of out-of-this-world installations that reflect what it would be like to live and shop on Mars.]
Another example is Bodega, a high-end sportswear brand out of Boston. The brand was stuck in the middle of Downtown LA’s Warehouse District, so they created a bodega-style storefront [to create some buzz]. Customers walk through the entrance to find the store hidden behind plastic curtains. More importantly, they understand the vernacular of buying for digital natives. There’s a sign that reads ‘Thank you for copping,’ not ‘Thank you for shopping.’ Their products are social currency, which is the new desirability for consumers. Retail design requires a lot of sophistication, as well as an understanding of the consumer you’re targeting. More importantly, it requires that you have a solid digital platform that can bring community together.”
Purchase to Purpose
“Korean brand Aromatica sells environmentally friendly and organic products. They also bring a sense of purpose through an experiential retail experience. That’s their point of difference. There are a lot of people that do environmentally sound products, but what Aromatica Zero Station in Seoul does is create an experience. Their whole shop is about refilling and reusing. They want to be 100 percent circular with no waste at all. Everything they sell is environmentally friendly, organic, with no chemicals or preservatives. The store is beautifully designed as well. A large communal table makes it feel like you’re sitting at a friend’s dining room than shopping. Being environmentally sound doesn’t mean you have to have boring, granola spaces anymore.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s December 2021 issue.