How to Get Young People to Shop in Actual Stores

New York PostDec. 3, 2018

As retail transforms from bricks to clicks, and finicky consumers search for excitement, store design is trending toward a high-tech, curated experience.

“Stores are becoming more experiential than in the past, when they were just maximizing the sales,” says Drew Miller of store design firm Spacesmith.

Instead, a few items are carefully selected and featured on mannequins. Just a handful of products may be placed on shelves.

“Exclusivity is the key,” says RKF retail broker Karen Bellantoni, “and everything has to be an experience.”

Luxury retailers may reduce their store counts in the area, but they’re creating larger central flagships, Miller says, where they can add VIP rooms and small cafés to make shoppers feel special.

“The space has to be much more flexible,” Miller explains. Display furnishings are designed to be moved around. “If you are trying to build a following, you need space for coffee and meetups and yoga classes.”

In what seems like a contrarian move, retailers make their brick-and-mortar locations stand out by making them hard to navigate. Explains Navid Maqami of S9 Architecture, “They chop the space up into little ones,” thus creating a “treasure hunt.”

Ambient lighting sets the mood while targeted beams highlight certain items.

“It is more about showcasing a specific product instead of letting every product have the same attention,” Miller says. “For the higher-end luxury retailers, it’s about showcasing the piece that will make the month or the year” in profits.

A chic brand, for instance, may be promoting an alligator purse, while, at the other end of the price point, a mass marketer will ensure the customer knows a specific T-shirt is made from recycled cotton.

Gen Z consumers, who were born after 1995 and grew up with smartphones, are different from millennials, born between 1981 and 1995. Technology “is second nature to [Gen Z], and their behavior will affect store design,” says Ali Yadegari, a principal at design firm GreenbergFarrow.

And yet, he notes, an IBM Institute for Business Value and National Retail Federation study found 98 percent of Gen Zers prefer to go to a physical store much of the time. “They like to go and experience that,” he says of the in-person visit that millennials often shun.

The Gen Zs like high-tech features that “add value and enhance their shopping experience,” and they wouldn’t mind robots helping them make purchasing decisions. “The retail industry has to adapt to their behavior,” says Yadegari. “People still love to touch and feel stuff, but the store is more of an experience environment.”

The newest changing rooms are fitted with tech-enhanced smart mirrors showing 360-degree views that can even change a garment’s color on the wearer. Sephora uses augmented-reality mirrors that let customers see how a makeup color would look on them without ever applying it.

Instagrammable walls are also popular. The new one at Brideside at 20 E. 20th St. has a green background with cascading flowers and a pink neon heart where brides-to-be and their bestie bridesmaids can pose and post.

Venchi, a chocolatier at 861 Broadway, has cascading chocolate in the rear lounge for another photo op.

“Having a unique experience they remember and post pictures of online — being part of the hype — is a big part of these brands,” says Justin Fantasia of RKF, who represents Brideside.

But some fancier retailers are reluctant to embrace the experiential excesses.

“When you do timeless, you don’t want to buy into trends,” Miller says. Instead, they include concierge services. “Every store has a VIP room, which plays back into [renting] larger square footage — so that they can have these amenities.”

Color palettes provide the brand’s visual cues. Some elements are even an homage to the store’s geographic location. Designers might use bamboo in Hong Kong, for instance, or a cobblestone-like floor in New York. “You want to be attracted to go to that store in that city,” Miller says.

To that end, S9 designed the mixed-use Empire Stores in Dumbo to generate more visitor interest by interspersing restaurants, retailers like West Elm and offices on different levels.

“There is more engagement and a bit of discovery and adventure,” Maqami adds. “It’s not just, ‘Go to the restaurant and go home.’ ”

New York Post