Design Matters: Redefining the retail experience through F&B

Retail industry moguls are always talking about how traditional in-store retail is at a crossroads and that “the way we use our high streets is changing.” It’s also been said many times (including by me) that food and beverage outlets are an integral part of this change. But what does this actually mean for the industry, and how can larger retailers use this information to shape their in-store experience to get the most from their customers?

A seachange

It’s been a tough few years for retail - and department stores in particular have felt the squeeze. This is a symptom of a seismic shift which has been threatening to surface for some time. A trip to the shops isn’t what it used to be; it’s often not the cheapest nor the most convenient way for customers to get hold of the items they want. And as we are told by business analysts year after year: people are doing more and more of their shopping online as a result.

But, we’d be foolish to ignore the fact that there are people who still choose to visit their local high street - and their favourite department store - instead of (or as well as) buying items online. The key to ensuring they continue to do this, and convincing others to do the same, is identifying why.

The return of shopping for pleasure?

Shopping, like any other industry or activity, has gone through a natural evolutionary process. The birth of the department store in the 1800s was a direct result of the rise of the middle and working classes during the industrial revolution. For the first time, ordinary people were shopping for pleasure and department stores provided a safe haven for unaccompanied middle class women, who, giddy with the new-found freedom of being able to visit the shops without a chaperone, could get most of the things they needed under one roof, without having to brave the city streets. There was even an onsite tearoom offering a comfortable place to rest your feet, take refreshment and catch up with friends.  

In recent years (and through subsequent global recessions) the growth of budget and online retailers has demonstrated the importance consumers place on price and convenience. But could all this be changing? Ethical manufacturing, provenance, sustainability and quality are fast becoming the new buzz words of retail. Perhaps footage of crowds fighting over the last half-price TV in the Black Friday sales, or increased knowledge of the tonnes of plastic packaging polluting our oceans, has finally started to make us feel ashamed of our excesses.

Fast fashion is being superseded by ‘slow living;’ buying genuinely useful items that last and have more intrinsic value. It’s only a matter of time before this begins to have an impact on what people expect to find when they head to the shops.

Less stocking up, more taking stock

For large retailers to optimise revenue from this slower, more considered type of purchasing, they need to understand and leverage the wider customer experience. This is where food & beverage comes in. Executed well, an F&B offering can have a transformative effect on a retail space; turning what could be an uncomfortable, stressful experience into an opportunity to socialise and relax - harking back to those early days of shopping for pleasure.

If someone is making the effort to leave the house and visit a department store, getting their item as quickly and as cheaply as possible isn’t their priority. They could be meeting a friend, taking an elderly relative out, trying on a suit, testing a new makeup product, or looking for inspiration for a gift. Shopping in this context becomes sociable and enjoyable again, making an in-store café, restaurant or bar not just complementary, but requisite to their visit.

And this is why creating an in-store F&B concept shouldn’t be an afterthought. Afterall, it might be a huge part of why your customers choose to visit you, rather than filling their virtual shopping cart and clicking ‘go to checkout’. And if it isn’t, with the right approach, an intelligent design and a concept that speaks to the needs of your customer; it soon could be.

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