Imagine the future of in-store shopping experience

What’s the future of brick-and-mortar stores?

E-commerce is hitting brick-and-mortar stores. While customers continue to “go to a physical retailer for greater engagement with a product and quicker access to items”. Those that “enter a physical store have a purpose to learn, to experience, and to speak to a person, rather than just complete a transaction” and customers have rising expectations for personalization during their shopping experience.There is a clear opportunity for retailers to focus on creating a rewarding in-store experience.

Analyzing primary & secondary research: Affinity Diagram, Customer Journey, Competitive Analysis

The unique Sur La Table in-store experience

The unique experiential qualities of Sur La Table is created by its bazaar-like in-store experience. The brick-and-mortar stores are core to their overall strategy because they sell items that people want to touch and feel before purchasing, which include expensive considered purchases and niche, unfamiliar gadgets. Also, in the cookware and kitchen domain, customers will demand better service “because they often rely on store employee’s advice and knowledge when making high-end purchases”.

Shop-Alongs and Observations in multiple Sur La Table stores
What’s the current in-store experience? What are users’ pain points? What are the potential design opportunities?
Customer Journey Map

It became clear that many customers spend time in the store simply for entertainment and to get new ideas for inspiration. The feelings of discovery, inspiration, and anticipation of first use at the moment of purchase became the key experiential qualities we wanted to hone in on in our design.

How can we improve the in-store experience to help shoppers discover new products and realize projects at home?


A Sur La Table product companion app that inspires shoppers to up their cooking game by discovering tools that help them embark on new culinary endeavors. Inspiration and execution are brought together through curated photos and recipes in a single location.


Featured recipes and how-to videos from Sur La Table and photos from community members offer inspiration, directions, ingredient lists, and tools to help customers actualize their culinary aspirations.

“You get ideas for cooking while you’re in the store, with the tools, based on the tools — that’s kind of what everyone needs — I never know what the tools are.”


Tool-based recipes and product recommendations empower customers to use their purchases successfully.

“Having the tools makes you feel more like a foodie.”


A rich gallery of community photos provides a window into the culinary adventures of Sur La Table’s most engaged customers. Lumière offers a way for content creators and consumers to share their culinary successes and be inspired by others. Facilitate the interaction between store associates and customers.

Benefits for both customers and business

Lumiere also creates business value. It increases basket size through exposure to related items, and help customers extract more value from the tools; by providing a platform for the most engaged audience, customers become brand ambassadors and content creators; finally, Lumiere closes the gap between stores and home to deliver on an omni-channel strategy. It provides insight into actual home use of products, as well as scan and purchase history to store associates for more informed in-store customer engagement.

How can Lumiere fit into Sur La Table’s existing system?

The Design Process


We created design principles generated from research to facilitate the ideation. Our storyboard forced us to think about the nuanced interactions, conflict, and opportunity we needed to account for with our solution. We used quick and dirty sketching and wireframing to generate tons of design solutions.

Design Principles for evaluating ideas, Storyboard for building empathy, Wireframes for generating ideas


We created a high-level information architecture to guide our prototyping. We moved directly to high-fidelity interactive prototype, for that high-quality images were necessary to gather valid data, and we also wanted to evaluate our concept with users directly in the store. We triangulated our evaluation methods and took an iterative approach, which turned out really effective.

Information Architecture, Hi-Fi Prototype, Evaluation Framework

My Learnings

In this 10-week capstone project, we’ve partnered with a Senior UX Researcher from Microsoft Internet of Things design research team and the heads of the retail practice at Point B to use design and technology to rethink the in-store experience. I contributed mostly into user research and interaction design (including animation). What I learned:


  1. Just do enough research, and triangulated different research methods — lean user research rocks!
  2. Make full use of design research frameworks — they are magic!


  1. Use Storytelling in each design phase — in order to build empathy for users, as well as put the concept into the real world, ensure that we are solving right/real problems for right/real people.
  2. Be clear about the assumptions, test early and often with the right questions in mind, and iterate, iterate, iterate.


  1. Always care about the Business as much as the actual Design.
  2. Involve business and other stakeholders in each design phase — we have weekly meetings with Microsoft and PointB, their feedbacks towards business and technology had a great impact on the project and our own learnings.
Team at Sur La Table

We presented our project to Sur La Table and got great feedbacks and appreciations.

“You guys have done awesome. Education. Tools. Community. You nailed all three.” — Kevin Ertell, SVP Digital at Sur La Table