As big box retailers reset for the future, design is playing a strategic role in helping them adjust their formats, right size their inventories, and make the experience more relevant to local markets. Design is helping to:
• organize intuitive and logical adjacencies and traffic flow
• break large scale presentations into smaller, more understandable ideas
• establish focal points as attractors and cross-merchandising collections of related product
• adapt the look and feel to the market served, and
• provide graphics that have the dual purpose of amplifying the store branding while communicating pathway.
For example, as a retailer of consumer electronics, Best Buy has recognized that products and services have become increasingly advanced and sales-complex. The customer easily is overwhelmed with changing technology and a vast array of choices. In consumer electronics, the virtual world is changing the way we live, work, and play. Opportunities to purchase online and find product available almost anywhere is changing the way this retailer thinks about the future of its stores. Yet its goal continues to be to create an environment that demystifies technology and is more responsive to the way people live with this product.
Smaller is Bigger
The big box we know today need not and will not remain a warehouse of product stacked high and deep. More consumers are doing their homework before they enter the store and as more alternative pathways to purchase emerge—such as QR coding, online shopping, etc.—the result ultimately will be less in-store inventory, smaller more efficient footprints, and a comfortable environment where consumers interact with and educate themselves about the merchandise.
In consumer electronics, what is envisioned is more a presentation of trained staff showing customers how to unlock the full potential of their devices by demonstrating advanced services integrated with hardware products and entertainment content.
The Changing Box
Our collaborative work with Best Buy began in 2007 involving the development of an “urban experience” store in New York, followed by the Hancock Center in Chicago in 2008. These sites were generally “off the grid” of any of their prior prototype formats. While Best Buy had experimented with urban sites in New York before, the results had been a diminished experiential value, difficulty with navigation, and stores that were more difficult to operate than their suburban counterparts. With these great locations come oddly configured multi-level footprints unfamiliar to Best Buy prototype formats. Along with organizing the stores for ease-of-navigation, we were asked to help create strategic locations that could present technology as solutions to real life needs and wants.
A Familiar Platform—but with Surprises
The introduction of “solutions” selling rooms and focal attractors were developed to stage collections of product that work together to help customers with their lives, work, and play. Hard surface “esplanades” were designed as wide central aisles leading to focal attractors for ease-of-navigation and to activate all parts of the unusual space configurations, while materials and finishes moved away from the traditional.
The Best Buy palette of bold color blocking was used as a way to enhance the service message and to reinforce the individual color identities associated with each important service offering. Boldly scaled lifestyle graphics were developed as emotive visual references to people “on-the-go” using mobile devices.
Resetting the Experience
Regardless of category of merchandise, big box retailers must approach the plan of their stores by mapping the customer experience. We have found that by rethinking logical principles of orienting, engaging, informing, and ultimately persuading customers when developing layout, major barriers to the purchasing decision can be discovered and removed. Once discovered, these barriers often have been a result of habit and hindsight or an operating assumption, rather than a close examination of customer needs, how they move through larger formats, and shopping patterns in general.