ARCHIVES: This is legacy content from before Marketing Dive acquired Mobile Marketer in early 2017. Some information, such as publication dates, may not have migrated over. Check out the new Marketing Dive site for the latest marketing news.

Mobile inspires new retail store designs that go beyond the Apple Store

Mobile?s influence on the in-store experience extends beyond iPad point-of-sale systems and shopping applications, with retailers completely rethinking store design and merchandising to better meet the needs of the smartphone-equipped customer.

Apple was the first to revolutionize store design a few years ago but increasingly other retailers are recognizing that the in-store experience is increasingly about inspiration and finding how products fit into a customer?s life. This is because mobile shoppers are more self-directed as they have easy access to a wealth of information about a wide variety of products.

?The concept of departments and retailers creating physical stores based on departments, that seems to be going away and it is a lot more focused on engagement zones and pairing products together,? said Jared Meisel, managing partner at Theory House, Charlotte, NC. ?This is indicative of mobile influencing shopping behavior and changing shopping behavior, because we can shop for everything.

?We are not just shopping one item or one channel,? he said. ?We tend to cross shop based on how we use the products in our lives.

?That?s the expectation now of retailers instead of retailers providing just one channel?s worth of products.?

Hands-on experiences
In the past, stores were designed with departments and aisles to influence shopper behavior with an eye toward encouraging shoppers to view as many products as possible and add more items to their baskets.

However, increasingly retailers are looking at eliminating departments and creating more open retail spaces populated with thematic zones.

For example, AT&T recently unveiled a new store format intended to reflect customers? mobile lifestyle where café-style learning tables replace cash registers.

The store layout highlights products and services in three different thematic areas. In the Connected Experience, shoppers can see how solutions can be used in their everyday lives. The Community Zone features an open and interactive space where customers can test products. In the Explore Zone, there are digital monitors to highlight AT&T?s lineup.

Thomson, a British travel agency, with multiple locations also recently unveiled a new store format also focused on enabling more hands-on experiences where associates and customers work together more closely. It includes interactive tables where customers can research holidays.

The customer-facing interface uses advanced touch and transition elements to make it feel like an app.

Social media feeds are streamed onto the screens to inspire customers and give them a feel of what to expect from a vacation.

Inspiring customers
Retailers are also including more thematic areas of inspiration in their stores. For example, big box retailers are increasingly including multiple products on an endcap that can fit together in a customer?s life.

While there has been a movement in this direction for a little while, mobile is hastening the transition because customers are so much better informed.

?Retail stores are becoming a lot less about pure education,? Mr. Meisel said. ?They are not going all the way to entertainment but there is something in there around inspiring people.

?It is almost like helping shoppers imagine how these products fit into your life and it is a lot more than just one product or one category, it is kind of like the total store perspective,? he said.

The empowered associate
In the new store formats, with customers more self-directed, this also changes the role of the store associate.

However, rather than the store associate?s role being diminished it is in fact enhanced.

?In modern stores that have been redesigned and considered mobile, the associate is now more of a tour guide than a sales person,? Mr. Meisel said.

?In the AT&T store, you had someone up front, they are kind of giving you a little bit of the background, saying go explore, have fun, interact with the products, if you need us, we are here,? he said. ?It felt like they were making sure you were engaging with the environment.

?In a mobile retail environment, because mobile has changed so much, with the shoppers being able to access all the information, associates need to understand things and have a deeper, more authentic and relevant knowledge as opposed to this broad, I know how to point you here and there but not really engaging the shoppers that much.?

The next generation
For the most part, retailers are still taking a piecemeal approach to adjusting for mobile, such as leveraging indoor GPS to help shoppers find specific products inside the store or augmented reality to help shoppers visualize products that are difficult to demonstrate in the store.

The introduction of Bluetooth Low Energy technology into stores is also likely to precipitate another round of in-store design changes by making it that much easier for a two-way conversation between a merchant and customer.

However, as retailers introduce new stores going forward, the influence of mobile is likely to be felt more and more.

?In many product categories, more than 50 percent of shoppers that walk in the front door, have actually already started doing their product research on a digital device before arriving at the store,? said Jason Goldberg, vice president of strategy, Chicago-based commerce and content at Razorfish. ?So retail designers now have to start their design projects with the realization that the front of the store has moved from the retailer's property line, to the consumers mobile devices.

?Mobile POS, self-service mobile Checkout, and in-store mobile experience are all rapidly on the rise, so we're clearly only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of mobile's influence on retail design and the path to purchase,? he said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York