Retail experience design: Creating culture for online brands

From digital to analogue we take a look at online retailers that create successful brick and mortar stores through impactful retail experience design.
Ian Thompson
January 31, 2018

You might recognise this retail experience: racks of clothes, unhelpful staff, and one open station in an endless bank of tills. In many ways, these are the features of old school retailing that have led to the meteoric rise of online sales. The lack of great retail experiences is forcing shoppers to find alternatives.

Many new brands start life as digital-only enterprises, opting out of brick and mortar retail. Often the development and running costs simply don't add up. However, some online brands are creating stores that enable them to reinforce their cultural values through good retail experience design.

In this post, we take a look at retailers who started life online and who have made a leap to the street; entrusting everything to finely tuned retail experience design. You won't find grumpy staff, endless queues and multi-till-points in these stores - instead, it's all about spending time, relaxing and being pampered. You might leave without buying anything but the retailer's aim is to win over your loyalty and sign you up to their culture club.

“Your website isn’t the center of your universe. Your Facebook page isn’t the center of your universe. Your mobile app isn’t the center of your universe. The customer is the center of your universe.” Bruce Ernst

Before e-commerce, brands like Collete built up their allegiance through carefully curated products beautifully presented in 'concept stores'. In essence, they attracted a global audience seeking experiential atmosphere. The success of the concept store has been based on two things: 'discovery and experience' - in today's tech-based world, whilst discovery has transferred successfully to online, the experience is very much the domain of the retail store.

Matches Fashion

Retail experience design: Matches Fashion Wimbledon
Matches Fashion Wimbledon

With locations in Marylebone, Notting Hill and Wimbledon, Matches Fashion is about to open a flagship store in Mayfair.

The new 5000sq ft store will occupy 6 floors; two dedicated to general retail and three to private shopping. Carlos Place in Mayfair is intended as the brand's flagship location and will host installations, fashion shows and live streamed events. The interior has been designed to adapt to changing needs allowing the brand to transform the spaces as needed. Tom Chapman, executive chairman of Matches Fashion agrees:'Retail should be about experience and connection, not about racks and racks of clothes.'


Retail experience design: Missguided retail store. Bluewater, Kent
Missguided retail store. Bluewater, Kent

Missguided won plenty awards at the VM & Display Awards in 2017, including Most Outstanding Feature, Best In-Store Branding and Most Innovative Person for retail visual manager, Treasure Evans. When Missguided opened their first store in London's Westfield in Stratford, they turned the volume up on the in-store experience, creating a vibrant media-like atmosphere.

The store carefully translates the brand's online message for a SnapChat generation with a raft of selfie opportunities actively encouraging visitors to interact on social media. There's even Unicorn water on tap should the experience overwhelm.


Sézane L'Appartement, Paris

Retail experience design: Sézane L'Appartement, Paris
Sézane L'Appartement, Paris

Sézane Apartments is a new concept by the 5-year old Paris based online fashion retailer with store locations in Paris and New York.

Sézane's first Apartment, located on rue Saint Fiacre in Paris, is the primary place to get to know the brand. Alongside the current collection are spaces dedicated to a movie theatre, coffee shop, and library. Each has their own role - the library recently being taken over as a space for the brand's charity efforts. Sézane wants to make customers feel at home and even offer visitors complimentary food and drink.

Retail Experience Design: Sézane L'Appartement New York
Sézane L'Appartement, New York

Recently Sézane opened their first international store in the Nolita neighbourhood of New York. “L’Appartement New York” is described by founder Morgane Sezalory as a “boutique apartment... with an intimate feel of a Parisian home". The 2000 square foot interior has been designed by architects and product designers, Talbot & Yoon who understand the value of retail experience design, incorporating play as a central tenet of their practice.

Farfetch at Browns East

Retail Experience Design: FarfetchOS
Retail Experience Design: FarfetchOS

Whilst not on the high street just yet, Farfetch is currently exploring ideas that will be the design foundation for its retail locations. CEO José Neves describes online retail as simply a way to efficiently connect inventory with buyers. His strategy for 'bricks and mortar' retail is the foundation of the Farfetch store of the future and marks the retailer's debut into augmented retail. Here, the aspiration is to free staff up for more social interactions with consumers by allowing the tech to do the more mundane tasks associated with operating tasks.

FarfetchOS: A new approach to retail experience design

Whilst human interactivity ticks experiential boxes, the technology will also help Farfetch to learn more about consumer behaviour. Understanding consumer choices allows Farfetch to adjust their strategy far quicker than usual keeping the brand connected to their core customers.

Store of the future launched 'in beta' at Browns East in London, and in New York at the Thom Browne flagship.