Shopping: exploring future trends

Once upon a time you made a special trip to the town centre, to the piazza, and the local market. This was a hugely social experience – you purchased your bread and butter, but also met friends, discussed the politics of the day, caught up on the latest gossip, maybe arranged a marriage or two. The market gave you an experience – shopping was something far greater than the exchange of money for goods.

How we connect with products and consume them has dramatically altered since those more innocent consumer times. For one thing access is replacing the physical. Many of us listen to music through Spotify, read news on-line, watch movies on Netflix, explore cities with Airbnb. Yes, we are still buying products but for very different reasons. You could argue that the smartphone eliminated the need for a whole set of devices (camera, watch, hi-fi, calculator) yet we still excite over a vintage wristwatch and technical camera, lust for a beautifully illustrated rare vinyl and take pleasure in the smell of ink on paper as we leaf through our books.

BMW Group showroom Amsterdam
BMW Group, Amsterdam offers more of a lifestyle experience

 

The time has come to reinvent the retail narrative. Experience is our new status symbol and it is having a profound impact on how we shop, offers Robert Thiemann director of Frame publishing. We are in Amsterdam at a gathering of fashion and car brands, designers and architects here to explore the future of retail.

The subject is extremely relevant to us at Spinach for our job is to work intimately with brands big, medium and small and help them connect on an emotional level with the consumer. Something that was perhaps much more simple in the time of the town market, is now a hugely complex tapestry, and it is our job as designers and branding experts to weave this seamlessly to help each of our clients communicate with consumers.

BMW Group showroom Amsterdam
The BMW Group showroom in Amsterdam

 

What’s interesting to see is that even though theoretically the digital age should have made shopping easier, more than ever consumers want to connect with the brand in order for a purchase to take place. They want to feel, smell, touch the object, but also bond with the brand itself be it ideologically or otherwise. The internet has become that last purchasing tool, the last click-and-pay. Phygital, as Thiemann refers to it, as in a seamless experience between online and offline shopping. Instead of webrooming, whereby you find a product on-line but purchase it at the store, in the second phase of the digital era, the post-digital era, the trend is the reverse, showrooming.

Rem Koolhaas, founder of avant-garde Dutch architecture practice OMA, is passionate in his belief that the recent changes on the world stage, require brands to have a major rethink. ‘We are at a distinct moment in history,’ he fires off. ‘There’s a lot of disruption going on in the world. That’s an overused word, often quoted by those with commercial motives, but it may be quite healthy for all of us in requiring us to consider different paths. These events demand that we have a rethink…discover pleasures outside the immediate comfort zone.’

MINI Living by architect Asif Khan
MINI Living are pop-ups in urban areas by architect Asif Khan

 

What this means is really rethinking the retail space to engage with the consumer, provide excitement, experiences, friendship and a sense of community, help share thoughts and ideology. This could involve experimental retail, spaces that are artistic, pop-ups and temporary structure, like MINI Living, in unusual locations purely for the purpose of brand awareness. Perhaps, as in the case of Fondazione Prada, they don’t sell anything but brand experience. It means more and more collaborations with artists and creatives who share a similar vision, and working with social and political causes that also identify with the company’s underlying principles. Be warned though, the consumer is savvy and fake friendships seldom work positively for a brand.

In the new age of retail, stores need to be become more glocal so the design of the shop floor is locally responsive even if the brand is global. Aesop is a great example of the company with a unique look for each market married to a strong core brand identity. Thiemann says they could ‘become more social by inviting people to talk and do enjoyable things together while also offering a personal service and custom products.’

Fondazione Prada
Fondazione Prada, Milano is an arts complex by OMA

 

In the future we will see more and more of a shift towards brands as media, ones that offer other services, that are inclusive, spaces that are more fluid and flexible in their delivery, and crucially companies need to offer a personal, bespoke experience. Pieter Kool echoes these thoughts. The Amsterdam based creative director and head of 3D design at G-Star RAW says the store of the future will be a platform for amplifying the brand experience.

OMA work closely with brands to create exciting retail environments including the Fondazione Prada, and more recently KaDeWe in Berlin, Repossi and Boulevard Haussmann in Paris and the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice which is a contemporary market of sorts. Collectively they are not only making strong architectural statements but are also expanding the customers’ retail experience into an urban architecture experience. They provide retail as part of your ‘city wonder’ says the firm.

The BMW Group would like to work more closely with OMA to determine what the car showroom of the future will look like. Buying cars is still on the whole a highly conventional process, and apart from a handful of more experimental digital stores such as Audi City in London, few offer a more contemporary experience. Added to this the auto world is in a bit of a crisis as the next generation is not connecting to cars and even less with individual car ownership.

Audi City London
Audi City, London is an advanced digital car showroom

 

‘We are actively exploring whether to set up a new venture for retail experience or new retail collaborations and partnerships in areas outside the automotive field with organisations to determine how the dealership of the future might look,’ says Michele Fuhs, head of Premium Retail Experience.

Fuhs believes that by 2020 BMW will need to be the ‘point of experience. We cannot remain simply sales focused but address what is mobility in the future, what is car ownership. We are competing with the entertainment industry. For this we need partners. Our brand will be at the centre but it has to move forward.’

Kool is candid with his predictions: ‘Part of our future challenge is that nobody has a clue how retail will look in five years,’ he says, ‘and trying to figure out what the customer might want in the future is a hopeless exercise. Better to learn to be a brand that can offer relevant expressions of itself as we venture into this wild and uncertain future.’

He continues: ‘But what we can say is that in future retail will be physical and the transactional part of shopping will become invisible, leaving just the experience. A purchase in our stores will become an optional souvenir of that experience and the store will become the place where people want to get lost in ways that online can never offer.’

Nargess Banks

Fondaco dei Tedeschi Photo © Delfino Sisto Legnani, Marco Cappelletti, Courtesy of OMA
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