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SO Showcase

23 April 2015

How In-Store Retail Can Compete With E-Tailers

Retail merchandising has had over a decade of coming to grips with the e-commerce juggernaut. According to the Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales have been growing by about 15% per year for the past few years and now account for about 8% of total retail sales in the US. What can you do as a retailer who relies on your bricks and mortar storefront? Many of the answers were on display at GlobalShop 2015 in Las Vegas this past March 24-26.

A common misconception about why people buy online is that the products are commodities. It follows then that since e-commerce is usually a low cost model and commodities are bought and sold mainly on price, e-tailers win customers over traditional retailers. Here’s a quick anecdote as to why that is not true. The biggest commodity in the world is water. It is free and perfectly drinkable from the tap in many countries. Yet consumers (especially in Las Vegas) line up to pay $5 a bottle. Coffee is much the same way; you can make it at home for $.25 a cup or give Starbucks $5. It’s the experience we create around the purchase that drives up the price point and our willingness to pay.

It is with this in mind that a new design exhibit was launched at GlobalShop. PAVE: The Planning and Visual Education Partnership aimed to create a unique merchandising display experience, where four design schools across North America were given a product, a design challenge, and a vendor to work with. The challenge was to create a compelling experience based around the product. Displays were to include visual as well as other sensory elements such as smell and sound. Who better to design these new experiences than design students from some of the most acclaimed interior design programs? Interestingly, these students are part of a new generation that has never known a world without online interaction. How did they accomplish this merchandise display design challenge? Take a look for yourself.

PAVE Sense+-ory Exhibit featuring four unique quadrants of merchandise display from Citizen Watch, Sephora, West Marine and iThigh brands. Designed by the most impressive students from four prestigious schools, these retail designs were hand-selected by industry professionals and educators.

View of the Citizen quadrant, which was designed by Aaron VandenHeuvel. Currently finishing his final thesis year in Interior Design, Aaron strived to push the boundaries of design to create unique design experiences. All displays in the Citizen quadrant were custom developed by SO Showcase.

The challenges were both fun and real. How does one captivate the consumer with a rope display at a store like West Marine? How do you introduce a new product that is targeted at women going to nightclubs, who need a convenient place to keep their Smartphone handy? How can you take something that has been merchandised for decades — a watch — and make it unique and appealing? How can you help a retailer like Sephora improve the way they display competing brands of cosmetics?

Simply put: these students hit a home run, and this speaks to the talent possessed by the next generation of visual merchandisers and store designers our industry will have the opportunity to tap into. Beyond that, though, there is something I took away that is much more valuable: it is possible to create a compelling experience around a product that cannot be replicated online. While we all likely know this, we could be forgiven if we sometimes get lost in the competition retailers face every day with online stores. If we do not work smartly to create that unique, engaging experience around our products and motivate customers to visit our retail space, we lose our stickiness and risk turning those customers into online buyers.

The experience is often centered on display, which is where my company SO Showcase comes in. But, it really does include many different elements from packaging, lighting, and mobile POS systems, to name a few. Here’s the thing: if you restrict and strip away the experience for the sake of lowering prices to compete against online business, it’s likely going to be a tough road ahead. We need to embrace the in-person retail experience and give customers a compelling reason to show up: an experience that cannot be found online. Thank you to PAVE for the opportunity to collaborate on the Sense+-ory exhibit as one of the founding members and one who constructed the display enclosure and display cases within the Citizen Watch quadrant, and thank you students for helping me relearn what I already know.

GlobalShop 2015 demonstrated to me that our industry is taking the steps it needs to launch a counter measure to the convenience of e-commerce through a unique retail experience. There is no single silver bullet that retailers can use to win back customers; rather, the experience itself has many facets. All of which were on display at Globalshop 2015.