5 minute read


By Janet Groeber

E-commerce. New real estate strategies. Staffing shortages. Increased operating costs. Personalization. Buy-onlinepickup-in-store. Changing shopping behaviors.

These are among the considerations that retailers are factoring in as they plan new stores and retrofit existing ones. More than three years after the disruption of in-store shopping, many retailers are rethinking and reimagining their stores, with an eye to creating spaces that work for shoppers as well as staff and incorporate features that gained momentum during the pandemic.

BOPIS, for example, has emerged as a must-have strategic element for many retailers and increasingly figures into a store’s design. So have dedicated spaces for curbside pickup.

“We’re working with several retail clients now to explore new format ideas and how existing stores will need to evolve,” said Joseph Bona, founding partner, Bona Design Lab, New York City.

Retailers across the spectrum are rethinking their box, Bona added, including convenience store chains who are joining other retailers in embracing technology that supports quick in-and-out.

Depending on the format, a fast-and-efficient shopping experience is often top of mind for today’s in-store shopper.

“This means retailers need to provide quick checkout options, speedy delivery and pickup, and other ways to minimize wait times,” said Jeff Nader, design services, api(+), Tampa, Fla.

In a trend that continues to pick up steam, more and more retailers are integrating online convenience within their physical locations. Walmart, for example, recently closed two locations (one in Bentonville, Ark., and the other in Lincolnwood, Ill.) devoted exclusively to pickup and delivery operations. The reason behind the closings: The retail giant has added those very services to thousands of full-service locations since the two stores opened.

Target Corp. has been rolling out new features for its curbside pickup service. The chain is going nationwide with an option that allows customers to use the Target app to return an item to the store from the comfort of their car.

Flexible: MJ Munsell, chief creative officer at MG2, Seattle, said that retailers need to be nimble to accommodate ongoing shifts. Operational issues, she added, especially location volatility, are affecting all retailers. Now, more than ever, it’s time to check under the hood.

“Retailers need to carefully consider co-tenants, traffic counts, proximity of amenities, ease of access and real estate costs,”

Munsell advised. “It’s no longer a given that going into an inline mall location is the best strategy.”

Bath & Body Works is among the companies re-examining its real estate strategy. The specialty retailer plans to open about 90 off-mall stores and close some 50 mall locations this year. It shuttered 48 stores last year, with the majority in malls, and opened about 95 off-mall locations last year.

Retailers are also paying attention to outside-the-box selling spaces.

“We’ve seen an uptick in pop-up stores and other temporary retail formats, which offer retailers greater flexibility and lower overhead costs,” noted api(+)’s Nader. “These formats allow retailers to showcase new products and concepts without committing to long construction schedules and permitting delays.”

Alternative spaces also include retail trailers or sampling vehicles that reach customers where they live or work.

The notion of flexibility extends beyond location. Layouts and open concepts that can be easily reimagined offer retailers the adaptability they need to keep up with today’s fast-changing retail environment. Modular furnishings do the same.

As retailers reconsider their boxes, many are taking a more flexible approach to store size. Target Corp. has debuted a larger-format store that, at 150,000 sq. ft., is more than 20,000 sq.ft. larger than its average location.

The company plans to open about 20 new stores this year in a variety of sizes. (See story on page 12.)

The discounter will include design elements that reflect the local community, from native landscaping to localized product offerings, in many of its new and remodeled stores.

Technology: As store designs evolve, back-of-house and frontof-house technologies are now driving changes for an increasing number of retailers. Think automated inventory management systems, robotic shelf scanners and even autonomous shopping carts that follow customers around the store.

“Retailers are using automation to improve efficiency and reduce costs,” said Nader.

Experts agree that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AI) are gaining wider acceptance in store environments. Nader said his firm’s clients are looking to use more VR and AI to provide customers with immersive shopping experiences.

“For example, he said, “customers can use VR headsets to try on clothes, visualize furniture in their home, or see how a product will look in real life and, in some cases, catch a meet and greet with a brand ambassador.”

Amid all the changes, however, the traditional tenets of good retailing still apply, including overall experience, assortment and accessibility.

“Shoppers still want the [shopping] experience to exceed their expectations,” said Munsell. “They want brand authenticity, inventory levels that are inspiring, and service levels that meet their needs.”

The in-store experience remains the strongest marketing tool for a brand, and formats need to be nimble to accommodate ongoing shifts, she added.

Munsell envisions a flexible physical environment that meets customers on their own terms — service when they want it, self-service when they want it. The environment might include moments that surprise and delight as well as technology that offers friction-free transactions, access to inventory and use of personal tablets for customer files, preferences and records.

Technology is allowing the MG2 design team to extend the notion of BOPIS for Brilliant Earth, a digitally native brand offering ethically sourced fine jewelry. Brilliant Earth has grown to nearly two dozen stores since its founding in 2005 as an online retailer. MG2 handled design duties as Brilliant Earth sought to expand its appointment-only showrooms.

“We want technology to create a seamless flow from the digital interface to the in-store experience,” Munsell explained. “It involves systems that enable a customer to select pieces [online] in advance and have them available by appointment when they come into the store.”

The system allows Brilliant Earth to keep a very limited inventory on location, which reduces the total amount needed in any one region.

In contrast, technology is used primarily for entertainment — live in-store feeds, Instagram moments and the like— as well as brand awareness and engagement for another MG2 client, iconic footwear brand Hush Puppies.

For selling environments, the MG2 team a created a kit of scaled parts with fixtures, flooring, shelving, furniture, lighting, ceiling baffles, environmental graphic designs and display graphics (including a hand-illustrated wallcovering of the brand’s basset hound mascot).

The elements are all adaptable to specific locations in a variety of formats, from flagship locations to in-store shops and kiosks.

Looking Five Years Out

By Marianne Wilson

How will physical stores evolve during the next five years?

Chain Store Age spoke with Richard Hodos, vice chairman, retail, JLL, offered these predictions.

• Stores will be smaller and more efficient. Larger flagshiptype stores will continue to exist in major cities across the globe, but will be limited in number. Many chain retailers will want to have smaller stores closer to where people live (and now, in many instances, also work.) The neighborhood store will thrive.

“Chains will need to adapt to become unique versions of themselves in order to be considered part of the local community,” Hodos said.

• Great design will be paramount. Store environments will become less “static” and more adaptable as seasons change. Luxury stores will become a refuge — almost a spa-like experience — to create a mental “vacation” for the luxe customer apart from what is happening in the real world.

• Artificial intelligence (AI) will play an increasing role as more and more technology is added to physical stores. AI will be used to assist in higher degrees of personalization and for store wayfinding.

• Combining experiences with shopping will gain even more momentum. More apparel stores, for example, will provide food and beverage experiences within.

• The store will “do more.” Increasingly, physical stores will delight, entertain and serve multiple functions, from acting as showrooms for items ordered on line to fulfillment centers for items to be picked up or returned in store.

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