The power of emotion and experience

December 29, 2022 | By RetailME Bureau

Bernhard Heiden, Chief Strategy Officer & Creative Director, Schweitzer

How to design retail spaces that are both inspiring & profitable?

The Middle East non-food shopping experience is “unbelievable,” but food retail is still quite “functional,” observed Bernhard Heiden, Chief Strategy Officer & Creative Director, Schweitzer.

At this moment, it seems to be more about having products merely stacked in shelves, but food retail experiences can be both inspiring and commercially successful. That’s a huge “untapped opportunity” in this region.

So, here are 4 ingredients to shape successful retail spaces:

Go beyond data, be emotional

Retailers must avoid the temptation of decision making based only on ever more complex sets of metrics. They need to evoke the right mood and emotions to uplift the product offering and enhance the connection with customers through storytelling, branding and localisation.

There’s an opportunity to bridge the experience gap between food, market and people, meaning that stores must look to combine different experiences under one roof to activate more human connections and build bigger stories around food.

The best stores are those that effectively tie together a holistic customer journey, so designing the layout and the arrangement of touchpoints to consider the overarching experience is crucial. It doesn’t matter whether you are a luxury or a cash & carry retailer, every customer at every price point deserves an attractive store environment with these things in mind.

Lastly, consumers are increasingly aware of environmental impact of their own decisions. To be first in consideration, retailers need to help customers by providing sustainable products and solutions. This means greater transparency around everything from product air miles to farmer welfare, also how you are packing products and efforts to encourage recycling.

Infuse food & gastronomy in food retail spaces

Modern consumers are looking for convenience, but they are also seeking experiences, so food retailers have a wonderful opportunity to exploit their expertise in food to bring unique food experiences to their customers. This could mean infusing a food hall style experience into a supermarket, creating food boutiques inside department stores, or even offering historical/regional food with a modern gourmet twist.

Define your core product offering and consider how relevant gastronomy experiences can complement the offer, then build and iterate. Customers also seek newness, so explore how to build-in the possibility for changing food stations and experiences.

Visual merchandising: Products over fixtures

Like any other retail experience, food stores should tell evocative stories and place the product at the centre as the king. Use the principal ‘product first, then fixture’ to develop equipment solutions that become invisible platforms to showcase your products in their best light.

It’s crucial for food retailers to demonstrate freshness & quality, made possible by the artful VM combinations of product placement, lighting, product selection, cross merchandising, communications and integrated displays.

Also, recognise that customers are seeking convenience, but avoid defaulting to bland aisles of cabinets. Instead, enable self-service within experiential serviced departments to balance the sense of retail theatre and convenience.

Celebrate expertise through storytelling

Stores need to work harder to showcase expertise and to provide a stage of their people to engage with customers and advise about the products. Storytelling through branding can provide greater meaning and customer resonance around product ranges and assortments, helping to build expertise and authority for in-store services and departments.

With this is mind, the objective should be to offer a more transparent, unique and authentic experience. Localised store concepts and theming are particularly prevalent in European retail the moment as retailers aim to build more relevant concepts and offerings for their audiences.

Furthermore, in an exclusive interview with RetailME, Heiden explained how designing aesthetic retail spaces require infusing emotions with technology, real estate and product selections.

“Meet” your food

The perception of classical food shopping is changing. Today it is more about ‘meeting the food’ before buying it.

Heiden explains, “Consumers are keen to have a dialogue with the store staff to understand product selection – be that cheese, meat or anything else. Also, there is a need to integrate technology within food retail but from our experience a customer shopping for cheese will most likely want to taste and talk to the staff as opposed to buying it from a machine. Some might even desire a “meeting place” experience while buying food, making it an occasion to meet friends and share food with them. After all, food is a great connector!”

“Interact” don’t sell

Customers are also looking for meaningful interactions as opposed to being sold to.

“A set of customers might want a store staff to recommend and curate a selection for them. While another set of customers might want to be left alone and do their own selection. That’s why clear product descriptions and pricing is crucial.”

“Functionality” is also of essence

Having talked about experience and engagement, for everyday shopping there’s also a clear need for ease.

“More functional and less experience-oriented – this is crucial and demands more thought,” Heiden pointed out. “However, today grocery shopping can be done online. So, why go to a store to shop for groceries? Customers go to a store because they are looking for an experience too – even while buying ready-to-eat food, their regular salad or alfresco coffee.”

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