How Leading Retailers are Disrupting Traditional Store Design

How Leading Retailers are Disrupting Traditional Store Design
Jan 27, 2019

The days of depending on your nearby shopping center for Christmas shopping are gone. The decisions and stock available to the cutting edge buyer are virtually limitless through the Internet. Numerous physical retail organizations have thought that it was difficult to compete and shuttered their doors entirely, retreating to online-only storefronts or disappearing entirely. A few business, however, have recognized the disruption  of conventional storefront models as an opportunity. 

These retailers are thriving because they have embraced the evolution of retail design from utilitarian necessity to engaging, experiential spaces. They are building smaller and more intelligent spaces with client experience at their core. Instead of endless aisles of products, we're seeing stores that are more similar to showrooms. These new spaces are less  less focused on inventory than they are on satisfying the client's desire to see, feel, and touch the product. Stores like Ikea and Apple have been seeing huge success with experiential stores for quite a long time and the trend keeps on to pick up steam.

In-Store Events

In keeping with creating an experience for the customer, retail events are on the rise to get consumers into the store. According to Modern Consumer Research, a full 60% of shoppers in the US market would be interested in attending an in-store event. Events offering early access to products topped the interest list with educational events and DIY workshops coming in close behind. Customers also expressed interest in attending a performance, celebrity appearance, book signing, or influential speaker event at a retail store.

In order to survive and thrive, the retail storefront model needs to adapt and evolve to meet demand by providing services and experiences that customers can’t get online. For existing stores, this means extensive remodel and construction initiatives. Even big box stores like Target are reshaping their interiors, fixture design, and store fit outs to be more focused on experience and less on the aisle by aisle maze. For new retailers, they have the opportunity to build out in radically different ways from the start.


Many exclusively online retailers are stepping off the screen and into the brick-and-mortar world, pairing these models with new and innovative construction. One such retailer making the jump from digital to brick-and-mortar is menswear retailer, Huckberry. Their popup location in Manhattan’s West Village is open now through January 2019 and combines what they call “actionable adventures” with their products. Huckberry is offering seven different adventure itineraries that range from a local “West Village Drinking Tour with Jack Kerouac” to more ambitious trips like “72 Hours in Iceland.” The store carries an edited selection of men’s apparel, footwear, and gifts targeted to each itinerary. In-store events include fireside chats with Huckberry “ambassadors,” product demos, and co-branded events with partners like Men’s Journal and Popular Mechanics.

Nordstrom Local

Nordstrom is expanding their presence with an innovative new endeavor called “neighborhood hubs” – bright and airy locations that carry no inventory. Instead, Nordstrom Local offers returns and same-day online purchase pick-ups, alongside premium services like personal stylists, tailoring, manicures. Shoppers can enjoy a selection of juices, wine, and beer while they indulge in a pedicure and wait for an alteration to be completed.

The fit out of these locations are more reminiscent of an upscale boutique and meeting space than a department store. The goal is to create spaces that function at the intersection of online convenience and in-store experience. The concept, thus far, is working. Nordstrom’s co-president, Blake Nordstrom told analysts that their efforts to localize on and offline are a “cornerstone” of their success. “When customers engage with us across stores and online, on average they spend five times more, and profitability per customer doubles.”


Timberland is changing their entire retail design approach to create a richer customer experience. They are kicking off their redesign efforts with a popup location on Fifth Avenue that will serve as an inspirational model for future locations. The popup will serve as a mechanism for testing different designs. Their aesthetic is bringing the outdoors into the city with fixtures like bespoke reclaimed natural wood, metal table tops, and custom benches on loan from Cleveland Art, that make a statement even as they blend seamlessly with their environment.

“With this new space at Fifth Avenue, we set out to create a haven where the community can experience the beauty and power of nature, right here in the city,” said Jim Pisani, global brand president, Timberland. “This is our vision for the future; whether in New York, Milan or Tokyo, this store design will serve as inspiration for Timberland stores around the world for years to come.”

Restoration Hardware

Gary Friedman, chairman and CEO of RH, formerly Restoration Hardware, is no stranger to thinking big and taking his big ideas way outside the box. He would certainly never allow RH to fall victim to the trappings of a big box store. Friedman holds a strong conviction that RH stores should be “a marriage of hospitality and retail” – he recently told Forbes “I’m interested in bringing the magic back to physical retail, whatever investment that takes in money, creative involvement, and time.”

To that end, he has added restaurants to several of the RH Galleries, allowing customers to dine in the store, experiencing RH design in a rich, real world way that goes far beyond browsing a website or wandering a traditional, windowless retail space awash in fluorescent light and recycled air. Turning the galleries into a destination for more than just furniture shopping keeps RH top of mind for consumers and allows them to experience the RH aesthetic and design concepts in meaningful, memorable ways.

Creating a Destination

Building spaces that focus on experience requires unique fixture design and layouts that are radically different from traditional retail design. In order for brick-and-mortar retail locations to survive and thrive, retailers need to create not just a store, but a destination that offers the consumer not only experiences they can’t get online but also experiences they can’t get anywhere else.

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