Last week AXIS took a trip to GlobalShop 2018.

It served as a nice opportunity to say hello to our vendor partners, source new capabilities, and see what others in our industry have been up to.

Sheila, our resident researcher, used her first time GlobalShop experience to sit in on a couple of educational sessions. Here are some key takeaways from Julian Lion Boxenbaum, NY Principal, Eight, Inc.’s standout presentation, “Why the Future of Retail Design Will be Physical.”

Rather than discussing brick and mortar vs. digital or how the industry is “dying,” Julian brought the focus back to what matters most: people. We believe grasping (and practicing) these retail truths will prove invaluable for retailers, brands, and fixture companies as they prepare for 2019 and beyond.

Above all, design for human experience.

Put yourself centerstage for a moment and think about these questions:

  • How does where you live impact what you do in your free time?
  • If someone has to tell you bad news, would you rather he or she be firm and direct, or cautious and soft-spoken?
  • How aware are you of how your actions affect others, positively or negatively?
  • What activity brings you the most joy in life?
  • What do you wish you had more time for?

Why am I asking you all of this? Because you are a person and you matter. How you perceive the world has implications. Your individual experiences contribute to the holistic identity of a community, a society, and perhaps, a generation.

Asking you questions like this, help me understand you far greater than asking you questions like these:

  • On average, how much time do you spend on social media?
  • Do you recall seeing X ad on Y platform within the last week?
  • Have you ever went shopping in a store and then used your phone to price-check the same product online?

Wanting to understand if, how, and where a person gathers information prior to making a purchasing decision is fine and necessary. Having an awareness of which touch points people interact with along their shopping journey is crucial. But why whenever a person shops, do we try to reduce the entire human experience down to a “system” - a simple set of activities: need, shop, buy? Instead of thinking of people, we think of consumers. When we design retail for consumers, we will always come up short. Consumerism is one small aspect of a person’s entire being. We need to think bigger.

At Julian Boxenbaum’s company, Eight, Inc., the homepage reads as followed: 

"We design meaningful human experiences. Experiences with emotion and purpose that change the way people think, feel and do. We believe people are far more interesting and complex than the narrow roles like ‘users’ or ‘consumers’. We think beyond purely ‘digital’ or ‘physical’, reality is more fluid and interconnected."

We couldn't agree more. 


8 Lessons in Designing for the Human Experience According to Boxenbaum:

1. Multi-channel to Beyond Channels

People expect convenience. They don’t care how they get the product or service they want, they just want it. According to Phillip Raub, President and Founder of b8ta stores, what matters to customers is commerce, not online vs. digital. People want uninhibited, natural shopping experiences that fit directly into the lives they live.

Retailers and brands have already begun making the transition from multi-channel to omnichannel retail by offering more shopping platforms, integrating technology, expanding delivery/pick-up services, and more. But in order to transcend even those boundaries, retailers and brands must bridge the gap between convenience and expectation. In other words, customers expect for everything to be seamless, so don't answer that demand by simply presenting more convenient shopping options. Answer that demand by intuitively selecting, designing, and implementing retail solutions that ebb and flow and meld into their lives from the get-go. It’s no longer designing for customer convenience, it’s designing around the human experience.

2. From Showrooms to Do Rooms

It’s hard for people to separate fact from feeling, and when they shop, that’s no different. Traditionally, showrooms were meant to showcase, highlight product features and specs, and wow shoppers to a decision to purchase. In other words, transactionalize products.

Today’s landscape looks a little different. Because people can whip out their phones and purchase products cheaper online than in store, the physical store design must be built differently. Showrooms must be designed for opportunity. The opportunity to learn, visualize, be entertained, and share community. Experiences like this evoke emotional responses which create memorable moments in the mind. And when the shopper returns to the comfort of their home and thinks about the product they want, memorable moments are much more impactful than a $50 price difference on an online store’s price comparison tool. “Do Rooms” build connections between product and person.

3. Scripted Staff to Empowered Advocates

You know what kills a shopping experience quicker than anything else? A bad experience with a store associate. Human beings are wired to inherently seek out and judge a person’s genuineness. Even at subconscious levels, when we perceive a person to be trustworthy, we are more likely to let our guard down and actually listen to what it is they are saying.

In this age of expectation, shoppers place a ton of expectations on the associates they interact with. We expect employees to know when we want to be approached and when we don't. We expect them to know everything there is to know about a product at the drop of a hat. We are often inconvenienced when we have to wait for them to retrieve something from the back. Because we live in a hyper-connected society, we are primed for instant gratification. Julian claims that “human capital is [retailer’s] greatest asset.” A logo, a mission statement, espoused values, and a product’s presentation do not make a brand. At the end of the day, employees are the keyholders, and this is something that cannot be replicated online. Modern-day retail programs absolutely must designate resources to train and empower confident employee brand advocates.

4. One-dimensional to Multi-sensorial

A growing trend in retail is the use of sensory-driven experiences. Human beings have five senses: sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste. Like with learning, where a person’s recall ability improves with the number of ways in which they work with a concept (hearing, reading, watching, doing, etc.), shoppers are more likely to remember and feel connected to a particular product or brand if they have multiple ways to interact with it. Rather than manipulating ambiance purely for the sake of effect, take it one step further and study what happens in our primitive brains based on the various ways in which we take in information.

Check out this Shopify article on the mechanics of smell and sound for an example.

5. Sales Commodities to Social Commodities

We exist in a world where we can choose to keep our interactions to a bare minimum. We can order our groceries online and have them delivered to us. We can watch movies, game with our friends, and livestream concerts from the comfort of our own home. We can do all of our gym workouts from our living room, and never have to set foot in a physical classroom again if we choose not to. But that’s the thing, we continue to choose to. Why? Julian summed it up with this quote by Simon Sinek:

“At the end of the day, humans are social animals and we are at our best when we get to do things with others who appreciate and enjoy what we enjoy. It’s what keeps us human.”

Isolation is not sustainable. As the phrase goes, “Build it and they will come.” Stores must stop being so sales-centric and focus on creating spaces that fit not only the needs, but the interests of their customers. This does not mean in-store sales are thrown out the door. As already discussed, the goal is not to transactionalize the space, but to monetize it. Create community around a product or brand and then offer up the physical store as hub to meet.

An example given by Julian was Rapha Cycling Club, which creates “Clubhouse Chapters” based on a store’s geographic location, distributes newsletters and events to customers (i.e. members), and then hosts get-togethers at the physical store. By using the physical store to generate excitement and as a place to gather, Rapha claims people do not just buy the bike, they buy the process.

Though the necessity of stores may continue to dwindle, utilizing the space to enhance the human experience will keep the viability of stores alive.

6. Media & Messages to Moments & Memories

Providing shoppers with compelling content, either in store or online is one thing. But what they do with that is another. How engaging is a banner of perfectly placed product messaging enhanced with a well-thought out visual component, if nothing about it creates the opportunity to turn the experience into a memory? Can the person take the experience with them once they leave the store? Will they think about it tomorrow?  Does it offer them anything else besides simply learning about a product or service?

In order to capture the attention of overly-distracted shoppers, retailers not only need to think outside of the box, but think like their shoppers. People know when brands try to win them over by doing the bare minimum. Don’t “create an experience,” because it’s the trendy thing to do. Create the experiences that make sense.

For example, upscale appliance provider, Pirch, turned their showrooms into places where shoppers can literally try out every single item before buying - from cooking a meal, to washing some laundry, to taking a bath. They aren’t just testing how comfy a mattress is, they’re taking full-on naps. And the result is a staggering time spent in store of 2+ hours, and most definitely a memory of what it was like to experience the products in that manner.

Even if your business doesn’t have the capacity to offer that robust of an in-house experience, stretch your imagination and think about how media and messaging can be translated into moments and memories that have relevancy to the individual shopper’s life beyond the constraints of your store’s walls.

7. Consumer & Commerce to Content & Culture

Much like the above point, messaging focused only on sales and consumption - or the benefits one would receive in exchange for purchasing said product (quality, status, comfort, etc.) - is not what resonates most with people anymore, especially the younger generations. A brand is not a brand because of its products, it’s longevity, its size, or its mission. A brand is a brand because of its spirit. The spirit of the brand is what builds a sense of community, of belonging, of belief and excitement about something.

Julian pointed out an awesome example of this in the case of Toms Shoes using VR in-store. As most people know, Toms operates its business on a 1:1 mentality - you buy a pair of shoes, we donate a pair of shoes to a child in need. In order to better convey the impact of that system, VR goggles were set up in Toms stores so people could watch what it’s like when the Toms Team delivers shipments of shoes to children around the world. Doing so evoked strong emotional responses in these people. It wasn’t about the consumer at that moment; it was about being a part of something greater and more powerful than themselves, and certainly more powerful than shoes.

What if your company isn’t connected to an endeavor such as that? Does that mean it’s impossible to bring content and culture to the shopping experience? Absolutely not. Whether a consumer electronics store or an outdoor retailer, each industry and its associated customers have a sort of subculture. Give your shoppers the chance to plug-in to what that means - not only in the products they buy, but in how those subcultures affect their sense of identity as well.

8. Exclusive & Excluding to Inclusive & Inviting

Finally, embrace the breakup with exclusivity, and take note on how this societal trend will affect the functionality of retail spaces. Julian reminded us how in today’s world, we get in cars with strangers and let them drive us places. We open up our homes and charge people to sleep in our beds. We go out to eat and realize we will be eating “family-style” with a group of people whom we’ve never met before.

Price most certainly has driven many of these changes, but so has organizational awareness of what being more inviting can mean to an overall experience. For example, some grocers offer children free fruit or slices of meat from the deli to occupy them and keep them full while their parents shop, promoting longer times spent in-store.

Other instances can be seen in the types of products carried - perhaps a grocer now carries more world food selections to better serve a transitioning neighborhood, or maybe a larger selection of clean-eating options is offered in response to another market’s demands. Maybe it’s apparent in the services offered at the store - bi and trilingual associates, or a greater effort to accommodate shoppers with special needs. It’s also safe to assume we will see an uptick in retailers’ iterations of what it means to be “inclusive” ranging from the type of partnerships they offer to their shoppers, to co-ops, content, entertainment, events, and more.

At the end of the day, people are people. The current state of retail is partially due to brands, retailers, and suppliers’ inexperience and lack of understanding about how to “level with” their shoppers in genuine and relevant ways.

We throw technology at them because we think that’s what they want. We topple all over one another trying to be the first to instill the next best thing. We get so wrapped up in our work, we forget that most of the time, consumers don’t care about our well-being. They have lives to live. Let’s commit to designing retail that doesn’t feel like shopping. Let’s commit to designing retail that enhances the human experience - from the memories we create, the experiences we have, to the products and services that enhance our well-being.


At AXIS, we make it our mission to deliver retail programs that matter. We know this means constantly tweaking, constantly revising, and constantly learning. Let us know if you’re feeling stuck or aren’t sure of the feasibility of what was just discussed.

We’d be happy to explore that with you, or help you evaluate any component of your current retail program: from fixtures and displays, to environmental design, to how you’re researching and understanding your customers.