Design - The New "It" Girl
We have all been on an incredible heart-in-our-throats, wind-in-our-hair, wish-I-hadn’t-had-that-last-churro roller coaster ride through the world of commerce over the past several years. With digital and mobile consuming the free world as we know it, icons have fallen, start-ups have overtaken legacy corporations, and the smartphone is everyone’s new remote control. With a flip, click or swish, we can summon face creams from Korea, handmade shoes from India, and 28 hours of entertainment straight up from Hollywood, no passing go.  This dizzying maelstrom of change has caused many a pundit to prophesize the end of retail as we know it, and to point instead to a future existing only in a 3 x 5 inch digital screen, glowing like sequins on a burlesque dancer’s tights….

So is shopping, browsing, fantasizing, touching, and dreaming over racks of denim and silk over? As my Magic 8 Ball app would say – signs point to “ No “.  However, the cost of entry has changed dramatically. In a world where anything is available to us 24/7; and where the same items can be price compared in a nano-second, how and why would anyone choose to ‘shop’ in a store?  Excluding the lowest tier of pure price plays, what compels someone to choose any retail site, physical or digital?

It’s the Design, Stupid

Design - The New "It" Girl
It is not new news that today’s consumer is an experience junkie. We look for story, stimulation and experience in every consumer journey that we take, whether it’s grabbing a sandwich (oh hey Kogi barbecue truck!) or looking for a new pair of kicks (Nike design lab, anyone??).  It’s no longer about the actual products, since, for the most part, the basic pieces we seek, be they clothes, electronics, accessories, food, etc. all have their doppelgangers in a wide variety of locations. Given the density of choice, and the hunger for sensation, those who can build the best immersion tanks will be the ultimate winners.

Stamp that Passport!!

Design - The New "It" Girl
Let’s look at the Apple Store – yes, yes, a super easy example – but that’s for a reason. When we enter this temple of technology, we are already ahead in the cool game. Its sleek counters, easily accessible play items, and hip helpers invite us in for an experience – NOT a transaction. And its never a bad thing to start of a sentence with “When I was at the Apple Store today…”  Sephora broke new ground by creating a playground of a different sort – a place that understood glamour, and the sexy excitement of a showgirl’s cluttered vanity. Perhaps for the first time, a woman was offered the chance to try on any number of new looks and personas in public, before a penny was spent. Every girl’s fantasy realized!  And perhaps the folks who get this concept best are toy stores – Hamleys in the UK, FAO Schwartz in NYC  and American Girl Place intrinsically know that fantasy and experience = sales. When all the senses are engaged, and the journey takes you to another dimension, the memory and emotion create connection and engagement. A product, if sold correctly, should be simply a stamp on a passport of incredible experience. A tea party begets a doll….and then some!

It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp

None of this is easy. Once the concept is developed, it still needs to be teased out into a multiplicity of channels and tactics.  What is the essence of the brand experience? What does it smell like? What is its soundtrack? How would you costume the employees – and how would you address them? Are your customers guests? Visitors? Co-creators?  Are you tapping into nostalgia? Or future worlds? Taking a walk through Eataly in NYC, or a larger REI store, invokes a very specific connection between how that consumer wishes to see themself at that moment of shopping – they are choosing an experience that resonates with part of their aspirational selves. For the gourmet emporium, it’s a high-end householder wandering through the best shops in Italy, picking and choosing for a memorable meal, to be prepared perhaps in a stately manor home off a cobbled street. The scents and sounds, the display of wares, welcome that personal vision, and give it life. The REI store celebrates the outdoorsman that nestles (dormant for most of us) in the heart of many an urban warrior, and feeds an opportunity to dream of white caps and white-outs. It is this level of giving flesh and bones to the intrinsic dreams we all carry that transforms commerce into engagement. Design the dream, and they will come. I, for one, am totally down for the Barbie Dream House Xperience!  Anyone in?

Design - The New "It" Girl