The Future of Retail Stores

7 December 2020

In our last Human Discussions talk, our founder has chatted with our client Jochen Schmidt, Vice President Distribution & Real Estate at Swarovski about how the pandemic is affecting the new role of physical stores.

Jochen has been working at Swarovski for more than a decade. Over the last couple of years, he has taken care of retail architecture, developing new concepts, but also of the distribution landscape on a global scale in order to have a profitable retail mix in challenging times such as the current ones.

Throughout time, the role of physical stores has been constantly changing and the coronavirus pandemic has further intensified this process. In this context, the in-store experience has a fundamental role. Physical stores are not only the places where products can be purchased but they become a showroom, a place where consumers meet and connect with the brand. Therefore, creating a successful environment in-store is essential. According to Jochen, to do so, three necessary aspects must be taken into consideration. First of all, brands must be able to deliver safety, above all in the current times when the coronavirus pandemic has impacted consumers’ lifestyle and wellbeing. Brands must explain the element of safety and what they are doing to make the environment safe for customers and employees. The utilisation of sanitisers and cleaning products is not enough. An active conversation on the topic with the consumers must be carried out.

In addition to this, the concept of inspiration is also vital. Customers must feel inspired by the brand but also understand where the inspiration for the products or the service comes from. To Jochen, physical store must also deliver a positive customer experience, especially focusing on the social aspect of it. The store can be individuated as a place where a community of people, with the same desire, come together. Making the physical store a social place will allow consumers to bond closely with the brand and other customers and create a stronger community.

Jochen explained that several factors contribute to a positive customer experience. The product, the possibility to touch it and the way it makes you feel is one of the factors that can enhance a positive customer experience, but a key differentiator is the service. Customers are interested in the brand, they want to know everything about the products, the collaborations etc… and brands must be able to sufficiently communicate all these aspects. The way to do so, is through storytelling and the history of the brand shared by passionate teams. By eliciting an excellent customer service, customer can get intimate, something very difficult to do online.  In fact, to create authentic relationships with the consumers, physical stores are necessary.

Swarovski has opened its new store concept in London a few months ago during the pandemic and all the aspects previously reported were taken into consideration.  We have worked with the team to help them consider all aspects of human behaviour and create this incredible experience. One of the goals was to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere where consumers were allowed to explore the brand and products freely; to make them feel like at home. The careful choice of materials, unique layout, POS messages, and keen attention to lighting design were some of tools used to create this inviting and intimate atmosphere.

The way the products are displayed was another key consideration. Higher interactivity and perception of value were some of the objectives. We advised on how to differently present the product, what materials to use as well as how to express more about the product symbolism and meaning. We have also worked on how the products are presented by the employees to the customers to further enhance the approachability and encourage creativity in mixing and matching different products. All in all, both employees and customers comment how much more engaging and interactive these displays are.

In addition to this, the brand wanted to create an environment where social interaction was encouraged and supported. There were many subtler sensory subconscious considerations that went into design, especially around the shapes of the fixtures, softness of the surfaces and lighting design, that have been proven by numerous researches to create a comfortable atmosphere contributing to higher willingness to socialise and supporting intimacy. Besides that, ‘Sparkle Bar’ was created where customers can comfortable explore different products, try them on and admire themselves in the mirror which has 3 different light settings. Think of it as a central location where you naturally feel drawn to and can have fun with your friends or chat to the sales associate comfortably. Further inspiration is provided by a small selection of hero products on display and tablets where customers can explore the rest of the collection.

Although many options for technological solutions were explored, only few of them were applied. As Jochen said, technology should only be used if it truly adds value to the customer experience. For that reason mostly, the tablets mentioned earlier were used as well as a really fun selfie wall was introduced. Customers can take their picture, use various filters and post it on social media. The images also ‘flow’ through the screen constantly in the store, making those pictured customers feel special. This is an excellent example of how to create a connection, a link between the offline and the online world, how to boost the brand online but also how to make the shopping experience fun as it should be.

The concept of localism is growing quite strong in the latest time but now even more due to coronavirus. According to Jochen, giving stores, above all smaller ones, a sense of local flavours is extremely beneficial. To do so, the element of community must be highlighted. Event, lectures, and other similar experiences should be organised to give more importance to the local community. A further element to consider is the aspect of sustainability. As explained by Jochen, creating a sustainable physical store is not too difficult but clear guidance must be followed. Actually, the new concept was designed based on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria and the new concept has already been accredited on a project in Chengdu, China.

Swarovski has created an environment where customer experience is put in the first place showing the importance of a well-designed physical store. We strongly recommend you to visit the London store but in the meantime, watch the full webinar here and discover what else Jochen has shared with us.

Listen to the full talk here:


Watch the full webinar here: