Here’s a twist. Major retail brands are looking at reinventions of their brick-and-mortar establishments that go beyond maximising in-store sales. They’re investing in fresh in-person customer experiences that multiply their business’ online profits, too. And it’s working. 

In fact, some primary e-commerce brands including men’s lifestyle company GentSac and jeweller Sarah & Sebastian, have recently seen online sales increase by nearly 60 percent – after opening creatively designed brick-and-mortar shops. Retail giants are finding a similar value in this approach, and these lessons are likely to spur a rise in physical storefronts from retailers now offering cyber sales only. 

Mark Landini is creative director of Landini Associates, a multidisciplinary design and brand consultancy working globally from its Sydney base.

It could be argued that post-pandemic stabilising will help conventional retailers regain their footing, in part for the social aspect of in-store shopping. But the eyes of today’s buyers have been opened to a literal world of purchasing options and experiences, giving them a far-reaching range of where, when and how to shop for nearly anything. Best, then, is to consider how the encounters that buyers have at your establishment will outshine ones they’d experience elsewhere, in-store as well as online.

Most vulnerable are department stores and shopping centres, whose limited, yet broadly available, offerings detract from their uniqueness, as do their conventional methods of customer service. Another issue is that despite the seeming ease of online shopping, retailers’ digital portals lack personal customer interactions, distancing buyers from the brands and possibly stalling purchases. 

When it comes to successful sales, don’t underestimate the power of personal connections and the wide-ranging potential of brick-and-mortar buildings to deliver them. Relationships are nurtured when people talk with each other, and the design of a physical retail space can encourage those interactions along with an overall sense of personal attention within the establishment. 

Consider our common-sense redesign for a fashion retailer facing global competition from stores such as H&M and Zara. After building up rather than taking down interior walls of the smaller retailer and incorporating fixed display lighting, curated collections and accents of visual merchandise, sales soared past those of their nearby competitors, an outcome that was most like enhanced by the new layout’s focus on a more intimate shopping experience. 

Likewise, reimagining how customers negotiate supermarket stops for richer, more relevant visits, steered us to metaphorically turn the table on Italy’s oldest supermarket, Esselunga. The project team shifted cash registers away from the store’s entrance to less costly floor space along the sidewalls, and a glass-encased production centre was centrally staged, allowing patrons to more directly experience how the food got to the store’s shelves — a move that makes the most of Esselunga’s fresh-food ethic and was a likely contributor to its heightened sales, post-redesign. 

What works best for retailers depends on how willing they are to attend to their customers’ perspectives and whether their current norms of service are enhancing or detracting from their in-store and online experiences. In-person shopping is a personal, social venture that, when purposefully attended to by retailers, can boost customer loyalty and sales on-the-ground and online.