Why emotions must run high in retail


Ahead of the Retail Design Expo in May, Sarah Adams looks at the reasons why emotions must run high in the retail industry.


The opening of the new Starbucks in Seattle, at the end of February, was a great reminder to retailers of the importance of focusing on the experience and emotional value of their stores – in order to delight consumers.

A showcase for the brand, the Starbucks Reserve SODO café/store is based at street level of the company’s global headquarters in one of the US’s most thriving cities. It has been designed to have an impact on all the senses, while still maintaining what is quintessential about the coffee chain.

Visitors are taken on a journey of discovery from the premium Starbucks Reserve coffees and Princi food on display, through a marketplace-like environment layout, to a dark-stained walnut and leather back-bar, with hand-stitched copper wire, where drinks can be enjoyed in luxury with friends. It’s hard not to see this as beacon of modern store-based retailing and an example to others, and here’s why:

Destination retail

In a world where most things can be bought online, today’s stores need a compelling raison d’etre. Increasingly, retailers are adopting a shop 2.0 strategy, with physical spaces not only selling items but also serving as venues for events, customer consultancy and places of inspiration.

The likes of Harvey Nichols and Selfridges in the UK have done this for years with their café, bar and restaurant facilities; in the middle market, companies like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer would not attract the crowds they do without their hospitality options.

It’s not just food and drink that drives the customers in, though; it’s special demonstrations, guest appearances or the promise of seeing special collections displayed in a unique manner. Starbucks’ new site does this well, and Kenna Giuzio, the company’s senior store concept designer, said he wanted to create “layers of experiences and understanding – something new to discover. I hope with each visit, our customers will come away with a new story of Starbucks".

Brand values

The best brands have a recognisable story behind them, and it is often the narrative they create that consumers buy into when deciding where to shop. At Levi’s in the US, for example, shoppers expect service levels to go above and beyond the norm, while Best Buy’s ‘Geek Squad’ tech advisors are as much a part of that company’s stores as the lines of consumer electronics stocked up in the aisles.

It’s crucial that retailers stay true to their brand values, accentuate their points of difference, and let the customer know what it is they stand for. According to Christian Davies, vice president for creative global design & innovation, Starbucks wanted people to walk through the doors of its new premises “and immediately find themselves in something different and unique, but they would still recognise as Starbucks". One of the ways this was achieved was to borrow the concentric circles pattern on the hand-carved doors from the art used in the Starbucks Reserve coffee card.

Tech innovator focuses on retail traditions

Another point that should not be ignored is that Starbucks has built its reputation on convenience and technological expertise - but this new site at its HQ achieves many of what can be described as the ‘store basics’, which have long been the benchmark of a successful retail organisation.

With the company regularly commended for leading the way with mobile loyalty schemes, mobile payments, and pre-order and collect services, it would have been forgiven for experimenting further with technology and making this store a test bed for the latest digital innovations. But instead, the key values of the store are in its look and feel, and in its welcoming environment.

As retailers look at the different technologies that can help transform their physical spaces to make them part of the digital era - be it biometrics, kiosks or mobile point of sale devices - they should not forget where they have come from. Shopping is and has always been a social experience, and although technology today can enhance that, Starbucks is showing that strong merchandise, great visuals and compelling design and display contributes just as much to the wow factor.

So, in summary, I’m impressed with Starbucks’ new offering, but mainly because I think it shows there is so much scope for today’s retailers to be creative with their stores and physical spaces, and really play on people’s emotions.

At Retail Design Expo at London’s Olympia between 2-3 May, there will be a whole range of conference sessions from the world’s leading retail businesses. There will also an exhibition floor full of the latest design, visual merchandising, shopfitting, architectural service, and in-store solutions, showing the industry the art of the possible.

As Starbucks has displayed already this year, as have many others, reports of the death of the store have been exaggerated. Physical retail is not dead, but unexciting, unemotional and unimaginative retail is – and there’s a need for those operating in the sector to seek out the new, focus on the experience and be true their brand values.

Guest post by Sarah Adams, event manager, Retail Design Expo





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