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Unlocking new potential: designing the right retail experience

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

Hopefully the new year has started well for you?

The team here at Innovare returned to the design studio in January, and we’ve been enjoying ‘regrouping’ after the long period of on/off remote homeworking. It’s also been great to finally get out and about again, meeting clients face-to-face and immersing ourselves in their physical retail and hospitality spaces.

We’ve witnessed a renewed optimism, thanks to the latest footfall figures* which are up across retail stores, pubs, bars, and restaurants. Our clients are keen to look ahead and are more confident in their business planning. They have been sharing their post lockdown learnings and recovery strategies with us, as we support their efforts to reshape, refocus and reset for 2022 and beyond.

Reshape, refocus, and reset

These 3 R’s were recurrent themes in the World Retail Congress End of Year Review. Their report looks at the enormous strides retailers have made globally in 2021 in the face of economic lockdowns. It also reflects on the accelerated changes that COVID-19 has brought about and talks of an exciting evolution of new retailing to come.

We’ve certainly been having some interesting ‘new retail’ conversations with clients about how they can rise to the challenges that undoubtedly still lie ahead. While their recovery plans are obviously unique to their specific businesses, we’ve been exploring ways to help them elevate their in-store/onsite customer experience.

Good versus great customer experience

Understanding the difference between delivering a good customer experience and a great customer experience is going to be more critical than ever this year. Importantly, retail and hospitality businesses must recognise that they have a unique set of customers with their own individual expectations that need to be met. And of course, they will also need to tune in to the post-COVID consumer mindset.

As retail and hospitality designers, it’s our job to uncover the elements that make a brand distinctive to its customers. We need to identify what the specific customer expectations are for a brand, and design immersive physical spaces that encourage a deeper understanding and engagement with that brand.

Designing the right retail experience

Designing the right retail or hospitality experience supports our clients to deliver great customer experience. Our staged design process for clients starts with an in-depth familiarisation phase. This involves delving into business and brand strategy, as well as reviewing customer, operational and market insights. In short, we dig deep at the start of all new design projects to help us, and our clients, unlock the potential of their physical brand spaces.

However, it’s surprising just how many businesses don’t have easy access to the sort of up-to-date information we need. We therefore thought it might be helpful to share a few of the key insights we look for at the start of a new retail or hospitality design project.

Customer insights

Your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what your customer thinks and feels it is. Regular qualitative and quantitative customer research helps to stay on top of today’s ever-changing consumer mindset. For businesses that don’t have an ongoing research strategy in place, we work with talented consumer research specialists to find the information we need to inform our customer-centric design solutions.

Brand vision and values

The pandemic forced many businesses to change rapidly and we’ve seen tremendous flexibility from retail and hospitality innovators alike. For many, new ways of operating have become the ‘new normal’ so revisiting brand vision and values is essential to ensure their brand accurately reflects any changes.

Communication strategies

Our physical design solutions should express the best possible brand experience. After a long period of reliance online, customers returning to physical spaces need to be engaged in a clear, seamless journey. Reviewing brand communications allows us, and our clients, to identify any inconsistencies in the customer journey, and prioritise design developments to ‘blend’ physical and digital brand strategies.

Measuring success

As members of the Design Business Association (DBA) we want our clients to have confidence in their design investments. Most new clients come to us via word of mouth, however, we still set targets at the start of each project to make sure we and our clients can measure our design effectiveness. This means starting with a clear set of existing metrics – from footfall to sales volumes, dwell time to new target audiences – so that we can make clear comparisons at the project review stage and focus future investment.

*Latest footfall figures are rising across retail and hospitality


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