Visual Merchandising & Branded Environments:
Making Retail Design Experiential

August 23, 2021
LUSH’s experiential flagship store in London

It’s becoming increasingly important for brands to capture their consumers’ attention, to come up with displays that make them want to stop and look rather than just walk past a long array of competitors. Brands are embracing creative new ways to attract their consumers, through branded environments, be it pop-ups, window displays, installations or retail stores with a twist.

A branded environment can be any physical space that conveys the essence of a brand and in the process creates an experience for the consumer. This translates across sectors, be it entertainment, sports, retail, f&b, tourism and even religious and cultural spaces.

Experiential Retail Design, in particular, is all about creating consumer experiences in limited spaces. These experiences are centred around consumers, with retailers creating multi-sensory experiences, adding another dimension to the consumer journey.

Here are some of the ways in which brands can make their retail space more experiential as well as examples of some brands who do it best:

Bath bomb station at the LUSH flagship store in London

1. Multi-sensory Immersive Experiences:

Creating multi-sensory experiences immerses consumers into your space, allowing them to interact with the brand, relate to it and see for themselves what it stands for. Probably the best-cited example for this would be British beauty brand LUSH’s immersive environments. At the LUSH flagship store in London, the vibrant colours and the smell of their naked products transport you to a land of fancy. Even if, you’re strong enough to leave their store without making a purchase, you will surely carry with you an experience to remember!

Pleasant smells not only enhance the consumer experience, they have also been found to impact purchase behaviour. Multi-brand department store Selfridges, was among the first to place their fragrance section at their store entrance, starting off the consumer journey with a pleasant atmosphere. While for beauty brands like LUSH having an overwhelming amount of fragrances works, having a subtle ambient fragrance is a more effective route to take for brands in other sectors. Singapore Airlines, for instance, came up with their own scent to mask the cabin odour and create a relaxing environment for their travellers.

Example of an IKEA store fixed-path layout

2. Consumer-Centric Store Layout:

One of the most talked-about store layouts, in terms of navigation, is IKEA’s fixed-path layout strategy. If you haven’t experienced it for yourself, the store is planned in such a way that in order to journey from the entrance to the checkout counter, consumers have to go through all that the brand has to offer, resulting in them purchasing more than they had originally intended to. In addition to providing them with ease of navigation, it allows them to browse multiple options before making a purchase, including IKEA’s showroom where products are displayed in a model room setting.

Gentle Monster’s Taiwan store

While navigation ease is extremely important to consider while planning out a store layout, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have an unconventional retail space. Brands are coming up with flexible and multifunctional retail environments to make the most of their space. In complete contrast to the IKEA-style store is eyewear brand Gentle Monster‘s bold and far-from-traditional retail space. The brand’s much talked about environments, that helped them gain popularity, are designed as an art gallery, complete with themed sculptures and installations, soundtracks and fragrances. They convey their trendy, experimental and creative nature.

While on some occasions brands may choose to go all out to set themselves apart, something as simple as having eye-catching signages around the store, that help communicate different aspects of the consumer journey, can help engage the consumer and give them a positive in-store experience. Bottom line, while driving sales might seem like the most important thing to consider while planning a store, building consumer relationships is more crucial and a harder goal to achieve, one that will ultimately help you build your brand.

3. Consumer Engagement Opportunities:

Allowing your consumers to engage with the brand helps them relate to it and gives them confidence in the brand and product before investing in it.

Lulu Lemon in-store fitness studio

Luxury athletic wear brand Lulu Lemon’s experiential store in Chicago offers consumers a fitness and yoga studio, designated meditation area as well a cafe and workspace as a part of their experiential retail strategy. Consumers are encouraged to book classes and experience the most of what the brand has to offer by sampling their apparel during these sessions, taking experiential retail to a new level.

The House of Vans Skatepark, London

The House of Vans’ experiential retail space in London is another great example of a branded environment done right! Complete with an indoor skate park, cinema, cafe and exhibition space, the space embodies the brand’s ‘Off the Wall’ messaging. The space brings the brand to life and is open for the public to come and engage with it and experience it for themselves.

Similar to these, the LUSH store in London, in addition to creating a beautiful sensorial experience for its consumers, allows them to try out the products in a designated spa area to get a real feel of it, inclining them to make an informed purchase.

A favourite for sport and sneaker enthusiasts, Nike’s New York store elevates the brand’s retail potential by including designated ‘play-areas’ for consumers to get a feel of their products in the way they are designed to be used. The store is designed to offer consumers highly customisable and personalised experiences like never before. A mini basketball court, a treadmill with an outdoor run simulation and a soccer trial area are just some of the incredible experiences the brand’s six-storey flagship store offers.

Huda Beauty’s limited edition mercury retrograde pop-up with a ‘for your eyes only’ signage

4. Shareable Experiences:

Creating organically shareable or Instagram friendly spaces give brands the opportunity to connect with their in-store as well as online consumer base, leveraging the power of social media to create brand awareness in new and interesting ways.

Shareable on-brand signage at a Glossier store

Slogans and signages around the store, be it a brand tagline or a quote that embodies your brand philosophy, make for great organically shareable experiences. Pop-Ups are another great way to afford shareability to your brand. By their very nature, pop-ups generate intrigue around a brand by granting it a physical presence in different places and due to their sporadic nature are talked about long after they’re over.

Shareable on-brand signage at a Glossier store

Glossier, a millennial beauty brand with a strong consumer focus, has managed to create unique, successful and highly shareable retail experiences while having just three physical store locations. Their brand environments are aimed at allowing consumers to interact with the brand, and each other, rather than as designated places to buy their products, thereby fostering a community. They leave no stone unturned in making sure that the space makes a special feature on every visitor’s Instagram feed.

HUDA Beauty immersive retail experience in Covent Garden, London

To launch its Mercury Retrograde eye-shadow pallete, Huda Beauty created a pop-up experience in Central London, making its retail space debut highly shareable. The brand went all out to create an immersive celestial experience with limited edition products available exclusively at the pop-up.

Let your space tell your story. The stories you tell and the experiences you create for your community is what’s going to make them want to come back to you!

We are here to turn your spaces into experiences and develop a narrative around your retail spaces, where each element comes together to tell your story.
Ready to transform your space? You can get in touch with us here!

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