New Retail Theater – 7 of the World’s Best Store Designs

Welcome to the New Retail Era
The world of retail is changing more rapidly than ever. On-line stores compete with off-line stores, fashion boutiques feature new ranges every month, and it seems almost everything can be made in China for next to nothing, creating undifferentiated commodity markets where retailers of all description find themselves competing with similar product offers at a similar price point.

But as consumers continue to show great affection for the face-to-face, bricks and mortar retail experience, the big question for retailers is; ‘how do we stand-out in-store?’ Creating remarkable retail experiences is fast becoming the new holy grail. From augmented reality point of sale (like this one we wrote about from Lego) to extraordinary, themed stores, retailers that wish to stand-out are investing-in the exploration of new design techniques. No longer is the store seen as a display rack for product, but as an opportunity to stamp an unforgettable brand experience into the minds of the market and set them apart from the pack.

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes
The theory sounds straight forward, but our experience defining and designing brands in retail for more than twenty years has shown that many brand across virtually all markets shy away from the exploration of brand-led store format innovation, preferring to invest in doing more of the same; catalogs, visual merchandising, and above the line advertising. As many brand continue to tread the same-old path to market, those with a clearly defined brand and the courage to stand-out are cutting a new trail in cities all over the world, and in so-doing are creating remarkable retail brand experiences that help them to own a clear and valued position in the hearts and minds of more and more customers.

Want to know more about creating theater for your retail brand?

Here’s our showcase of seven of the world’s greatest examples of inspirational retail theater.

Australian brand Aesop has more than twenty stores in Australia and around the world. Aesop offers a complete range of skin, hair and body products presented in distinctive black & white labeled, brown glass packaging. Each Aesop store is unique, whilst sharing a related aesthetic, including the exploration of new materials, a meeting of science lab & designer elegance, and an often monochromatic colour palette. Aesop engages a fresh team of retail designers for virtually each store and briefs them to innovate the theme.
The result is unique spaces that surprise and delight, setting the stage for remarkable interactions with the product and staff that are as distinctive as they are rich in brand messaging.

Brand Theatre. The Aesop store in the Stand Arcade, Sydney

Aesop’s distinctive packaging design matches the science-lab meets elegant style of the retail fit-out

Aesop’s Flinders Lane store interior is made entirely of industrial-grade cardboard

Aesop’s Adelaide “bottle” boutique. The store’s ceiling is crafted entirely out of recycled bottles, precisely arranged in a wave pattern.

Alfred Dunhill
Men’s fashion has often been an area of the market given scant regard for memorable retail. British luxury men’s brand Alfred Dunhill recognised the opportunity and showcased their Winter 2010 collection at New York Fashion Week in a vacant Meatpacking District warehouse transformed into a pop-up shop for the event. The result was a visual stunning stage for Alfred Dunhill to show-off their latest range.

Brand design meets retail theater for Alfred Dunhill at New York Fashion Week.

has been crafting designer furniture in Europe since 1957 when they manufactured designs for Charles & Ray Eames and George Nelson. Vitra has grown to become a global brand in furniture design for home, office and public space. VitraHaus is a five-storey building that showcases Vitra‘s furniture and objects for the home as if they are in your home – cozy and welcoming. In the same way interior design magazines leverage aspirational homes to create an environment on their pages to sell their advertisers wares, Vitra has created an aspirational space in-which to show-off their own furniture. The approach is related in function to the IKEA showroom concept, but Vitra’s form is a far more elegant and impressive take on retail brand theater.

The VitraHaus design creates stunningly aspirational architectural spaces. The VitraHaus spaces are akin to walking into an interior design magazine The spaces in the VitraHaus have been designed as mini theaters with the product as the stars.

Diesel’s unique and innovative signature store and art space in Aoyama, Tokyo is regarded as a shining light of retail innovation, and for good reason. Taking a loose approach to retail space design, the Diesel Denim Gallery is as much about displaying the talents of artists, designers and architects as it is about displaying Diesel product. The Diesel Denim Gallery provides the fashion brand a strong association with cutting edge designers, delivering a highly aspirational and ever-cool dimension to the Diesel brand story.
It goes without saying, that few brands have the marketing budgets to create gallery spaces where the role of brand association is allowed to run free, subjugating the act of selling product. But the principles at play here remain incredibly relevant. What is your brand doing at retail to create positive, on-brand associations that reinforce your unique market proposition?

The Diesel Dennin Gallery. A unique brand space for designers to lend their coll to the Diesel brand.

Octium Jewelry
Often the domain of ultra premium brands, expensive custom designed fit-outs like concept jewelry boutique Octium Jewelry in the luxury 360º mall in Kuwait create a memorable brand experience through the weight of their opulence alone. Nearly every piece of the ornate luxury of the Octium retail store is custom-designed — from the furnishings, textiles and displays to the lighting fixtures and wall treatments. Budget aside, the investment in a store design that genuinely stands-apart from its competitors plays the lead role in creating a unique, piece of retail brand theater.

Octium Jewelry Brand Theatre. Not within the budgets of mere mortal retail brands. A unique design aesthetic creates brand differentiation

I’ve long admired the Camper brand and must confess to owning a much-loved pair-or-two myself. From the design of the product to the design of the stores, from their marketing and point of sale, product names and personality-filled brand voice to their two Casa Camper hotels, the Spanish shoe brand has proven to be a master builder of a rich and unique brand. It’s no surprise, then that Camper‘s Tokyo store has made our list of inspirational retail theater.

Unlike some of the other examples we’ve showcased, Camper is an example of brand-led innovative retail theater. Whilst the rich and unique brand experiences delivered by the Camper stores are not created on a shoe string budget, it’s the clarity and creativity of the brand expressions that make them so memorable and effective, not a million dollar investment. However, what all of these examples demonstrate, is that in order to develop brand equity, enabling you to command a premium for your products to increase your profit margins, you must have a strategy for creating highly valued and remarkable differentiation through your retail brand delivery points.

Camper stores are designed to create retail theater from the brand out. Whilst the design varies from Camper store to Camper store, they all share the same brand personality. Whilst the stores function as clean canvases that feature the product, the Camper red brand colour is a constant feature.

As with every aspect of the retail space, Camper’s visual merchandising is equally, uniquely on-brand. The Camper Tokyo store’s delightful, Miro inspired window graphics provide the icing on the cake.

VillaSofa is a Dutch furniture retailer positioned as a more upmarket version of IKEA with more refined product design. The retail design of their flagship Amsterdam store is a warehouse concept with a warm, cozy and slightly zany twist. The Villasofa stores look like no other, and intentionally set-out to create a place where factory-born furniture lives while waiting to be taken to your home. The result is a unique brand experience in both function and form that takes the furniture shopping experience to the next level of retail theater.

The Villa Sofa retail space is cozy home meets castle meets warehouse. The Villa Sofa retail staff zip around on trolleys, taking the cash registers to the customers.

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David Ansett, Brandamentalist
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We’ve attempted to find and credit the photographers for these wonderful images. If we’ve missed a credit please let us know and we’d be only too glad to fix it.


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