Jon’s thoughts – Retail Design Expo Panel Discussion ‘The Store of the Future’

Retail Design Expo

I was lucky enough to catch the thought-provoking panel discussion ‘The Store of the Future’ at this year’s Retail Design Expo. The speakers were Saisangeeth Daswani from Stylus, Jon Tollit from Gensler and Mike Roberts from Green Room Design.

The discussion started with the agreement that contrary to recent hearsay, there is still a need for a tangible, tactile and physical store. The physical store will always be around and is merely a part of a bigger jigsaw, where the street, neighbours and local environment should all be considered.

There should also be a consideration for value. Retailers need to change the view that spaces are created to make money. Happy people spend money, so make people happy by creating better spaces and new and different experiences. Jon Tollit stated “Department stores are best placed to take advantage of the widening remit of the high street, because they can legitimately create different types of experiences, such as restaurants, cinemas and even gyms so that stores become entertaining spaces and relaxing spaces as well as shopping destinations”.

The panel went on to talk about how the stores of the future will have to constantly think about bringing new and exciting experiences to the store environment to keep up with customer demands. They mentioned, components of the store should have “a daily refresh so that stores don’t stagnate.”

Brands and store designers alike should be looking outside of retail for inspiration to create successful high street stores in the future. In the panels current work they mentioned turning to Hotel design and even Theme parks for inspiration. They also agreed that the ‘customer comes first’ over new technology, when designing new stores.

How retailers balance the demand for this new technology with a human experience was a topic closely discussed. It was suggested that there is no place for some technology advancements, such as virtual reality in physical retail spaces in the future. This had a mixed but positive reaction from the audience. Some felt VR could just be the current fad, but artificial reality (AR) if designed and created well, could be a much more viable tool.

The use of technology should be carefully considered in a retail concept but only to enhance the customer journey and not distract from it. The idea that the customer journey often starts from the use of our mobile phones was also an agreed subject throughout the discussion.

How customers feel when they leave a space whether educated, joyful or any other emotional connection was a key subject discussed and one that should be foremost in design strategy. However, the most important piece of advice for designing the store of the future was to put humans first and tech second every single time.

Jon Webb
Retail Designer & Store Planner