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It’s no longer enough for retail brands just to simply push stock…

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

What if...

…Brands chose to embrace ‘difference’ as an integral part of their toolkit, celebrating a new vision of inclusion, gaining cultural currency and attention.

As the gender-neutral trend gathers pace, this is one to note, as pioneers are already developing and marketing new products and services to accommodate the needs of more diverse populations.

What if….

...physical retail spaces offered a way of connecting and reflecting the new way that consumers live, work, think and what they value.

As consumers are beginning to be segmented not only in terms of cultural preferences but also by dietary needs, specific health concerns, what they put in and on their body, beauty regimes, what they wear and the desire for treading carefully and shopping with ethical brands. What unites us is an on-going desire to look after our health and wellbeing, our planet and those we share it with, giving rise to the kindness economy.

Initiatives such as IKEA ‘Home for Tomorrow’, Holland & Barrett 'Clean & Conscious' and The Body Shop 'Activist Workshop' are all noteworthy concepts. What if brands built flexibility into their design briefs? Through smart design it is possible to develop component parts that provide ultimate adaptability. This in turn will provide longevity, where ‘kit’ can be repurposed, therefore reducing costs, reducing waste and providing an ethos that can be woven into any new design initiative.


What if… an effort to promote wellness and deepen relationships with consumers, brands were moved beyond their products to offer services and experiences that encourage self-reflection.

Brands could look for new ways of connecting with their audience in response to consumers looking for meaning and long-term attachment. As the strain of the pandemic curbed mass gatherings, community events and other meeting occasions of the public, brands could in turn begin to find new ways to connect.

Providing a platform where user defined ideas, thoughts, music, art or simply a voice can be shared, projecting positivity and unity by moving away from product-based advertising towards a more collaborative and meaningful message. Can brands create a sense of place through thoughtful design, a unique mix of revolving offers that relate to a specific community and cultural activities curated to speak directly to customers through segmented and considered story-based layouts.

What if…

...Brands provided actionable content, giving purpose and power back to the consumer, encouraging them and inviting them into their world.

Service brands such as Netflix, Uber, Airbnb have transformed our lives and expectations: accessible, effortless and seamless; brand control is giving way to consumer defined choices.

What if brands collaborate with independents, artists and designers or small local suppliers. Can retail brands learn from hotels or restaurants offering ‘new flavour’ adventures. Can retail be multi-faceted, combining a number of activities or services through collaboration for a more rewarding and engaging experience that truly reflects specific consumer needs and values. We’ve seen recent concepts such as Anya Hindmarch 'The Village', that draw upon the nostalgic format of small crafted and personalised stores, where you can get a blow dry, personalise your handbag and grab an iced bun!


What if...

...retail brands halved their store footprint? Providing an opportunity to showcase brands in a highly experiential way, where the customer could immersive themselves in that brand ethos, using a smaller footprint for brand engagement over holding stock.

What if small footprint pop-up destinations or satellite locations were considered throughout the customer journey?

Perhaps the most notable retailer undergoing this shift is John Lewis. The brand is seeking to reshape its estate by slashing its large department stores, and has plans to roll-out hundreds of concessions inside Waitrose supermarkets as well as new Metro-style stores in high streets close to where its customers live. These stores will act primarily as showrooms, where shoppers can see products, interact with staff and order items for home delivery.


What if...

...we saw brands providing a digital layer of everyday life with blurred reality activations in retail.

We’re replicating our routines, interests and obsessions in digital worlds: from picking outfits for our avatars to wear to fostering virtual relationships. As our habits evolve, we’re outgrowing the bounds of the internet as it was first created.

Using digital for connected wellness, socialisation and education as well as entertainment all being considered by retail brands wanting to connect the physical and virtual. Note-worthy is the Burberry Social Store and Hipanda in Tokyo who are using mixed reality for socialisation, high engagement and user defined content.


It’s no longer enough for retail brands just to simply push stock, as consumers demand more. They expect the brand to reflect their values, forcing them to be more accountable, whist also wanting surprise, entertainment and engagement.

Consumers are looking for more curated spaces that are user defined and controlled, delivering moments that can’t be replicated online whilst incorporating an everyday layer of digital. We also look to an immanent future of the multiverse, where mixed reality blurs the edges between the physical and the virtual – expectation has certainly driven innovation, creativity and adaptabilityit’s an exciting time.


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