Future shopping is not about buying

Our city centres are changing. Many stores go bankrupt and store owners don’t know what to do. I’m following developments around this subject closely in my country and get more and more cranky about the tone-of-voice of our Dutch Government. They’re talking about “saving stores”, instead of improving our shop experiences. It puts the focus on the wrong thing and it’s not a durable policy.

Let me tell you why!

Shopping is a form of recreation. Walking through shopping malls or city centres unites us in a way. Not much has changed in our shopping behaviour. What changed, is our consuming behaviour. Therefore, it is not the store but the retail concept that needs to change.

With generations, behaviours change
Working at the Dutch design firm Fabrique enabled me to explore and investigate multiple design challenges which resulted in new concepts. A main issue that continuously returns is the gap between generations.

The way babyboomers and millennials act is different from the behaviour of Digital Natives and Google Kids. Main cause is the frame of reference and context in which they live. Contradictory to Baby boomers and Millennials, Digital Natives and Google Kids are more hands on and are continuously in search for enriching experiences. They want to experience and interact with products offline and rather buy them online.

The future shopping street
As said before, it’s the retail concept that needs to change to align with future generations. In order to get there, insights in the consumer and its behaviour are of great importance. At Fabrique I use research methods like context mapping for these kind of design challenges. Context mapping means immersing in someones life and environment. This results often in a great understanding of somebody’s motives, needs and behaviours. Considering the needs and wants of future generations, future shopping focuses mainly on experiences instead of buying products. A lot of research has been conducted around this subject. Check for instance these articles from The Economist and International Business Times.

Offline benefits, like trying new products are difficult to translate online and have huge cognitive advantages. Because people are more likely to buy products if they have seen them in real life. In summary, the future shopping street will be a street with tons of experience stores where consumers can try products and eventually buy them online. The focus will mainly lie on recreation and brand experience. In this way, stores will continue to exist but in a different formula.

Impact through context
A good retail concept is created by aligning the shopping experience with consumer needs. Few stores have managed to create impact through understanding their context by merging the off- and online world. Here are some examples:

Story New York

Story is a shop from New York City that changes it’s theme every 4 till 8 weeks. Every theme creates a totally different store concept and product catalogue.

Flinders Café Amsterdam

Flinders is a Dutch design store that offers their products via a store, webshop and café. The last one is interesting. It’s a quite populair café in Amsterdam were you sit on stuff you can buy!

Club Monaco NYC

Club Monaco has a flagship store in New York where people can read (or buy) literature, drink coffee and shop. This removes the tension of shopping and focusses on relaxation and comfort.

Context creates value
It’s surprising how little stores invest in the understanding of patterns of their target groups. As said, shopping is becoming a form of recreation therefore creating a context that fits is important. It can influence whether or not people stay in your store. Hereby, interaction and experience are key. To create a memorable and engaging shopping experience, it is important that you have a good understanding of the desired shopping context of your target group first. Observe their behaviours and find patterns that can help improving your store concept.

At Fabrique, we strongly believe in this approach and often apply context mapping to explore the world of current and future customers and translate insights into key design principles.

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