Bridging online-offline worlds in retail design
Today, people can get almost anything they need digitally, with the swipe of a screen. However, we still yearn for the discovery, connection, and community that is found in physical shopping experiences.
The teams behind Australia’s retail spaces are being challenged to marry the need for online and offline connection, with our increasing desire for belonging. The best solutions bridge ecommerce and bricks and mortar experiences to enhance the feeling of connection, no matter where we socialise or shop.
“If you create value, the sales will follow.”, says Stuart Krelle, Creative Director at Sydney design and architecture studio Luchetti Krelle.
Krelle champions shifting physical spaces away from their traditional, merchandise-led approach, towards one that generates moments of appreciation, community connection, and value beyond revenue—something shoppers are craving post-Covid, where physical spaces have to work twice as hard to lure visitors to them.
“The pandemic has accelerated the need for retail spaces to become more human-centric,” says Krelle. “We need to push the boundaries to create experiences that are both digital and physical, and that truly connect with people on an emotional level.”
Opportunities for connection are better for business, because they create experiences that embed in customers’ memories. Memorable social interactions and awe-inspiring activations are far more likely to make a mark than traditional merchandise-led environments.
“Aligning the digital and physical experience is crucial in today’s retail landscape because it provides customers with a seamless and integrated experience.” says Nickolas Gurtler, founder of the multi-disciplinary interior and architecture studio Nickolas Gurtler Office.
Gurtler encourages his clients to think about the roles of their digital and physical environments to clearly understand where they differ or overlap, and to be disciplined when it comes to decision-making. Telling the same story harmoniously is important for brand continuity, but how it is expressed—through interactive moments, materiality, and functionality—needs to differ. “The challenge is to create a holistic, integrated experience that leverages the best of both worlds.”
“The digital experience has to be complementary to the physical” says Iva Foschia, founder of IF Architecture whose portfolio includes work for iconic Australian brands such as Jardan and Baker Bleu.
Iva Foschia at IF Architecture – Jardan Perth, Photographer: Dion Robeson and Baker Bleu Sydney, Photographer: Sharyn Cairns
Foschia highlights how important sensory elements are in retail, where tactility trumps tech to take visitors on a personal journey through the space. “It’s about emphasising the personal touch, the physical touch, the feeling of the product. That sensory experience can’t be replicated online.”
If a fast-paced route from A to B underpins online shopping experiences, physical spaces are about encouraging people to dwell and socialise. Key to this is a deep understanding of communities where retail environments exist, and an integration of local voices and values at the beginning of development, not as an afterthought.
Harold Perks, director of architecture and urban design studio Hames Sharley, calls for a focus on social sustainability. “Designing spaces and experiences that foster social connections, promote inclusivity, and enhance well-being for all who use them. It also futureproofs retail projects, which is ultimately less wasteful.”
Harold Perks at Hames Sharley, 357 Collins Street – Photographer: Emma Cross