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The evolving brick-and-mortar; How consumers are driving the physical retail landscape

By Katie Mitchell, Managing director

Seen Displays


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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September 17, 2019 | 9 min read

Keeping ahead of the ever-changing high street isn’t just a case of keeping stores open, it’s actively reacting to the demand from our consumers to listen to their needs of what physical retail needs to be offering them. Convenience, online/offline serendipity, trust and lifestyle integration wins. The high street as we know it is adapting, but if we stay connected to our consumer then this will lead to a time of progression and not recession.

Seen Displays provide marketers with a comprehensive guide on how to make the most out of retail spaces.

Seen Displays provide marketers with a comprehensive guide on how to make the most out of retail spaces.

Recent news reports have demonstrated a cry to the government to support retailers with the uphill struggle to keep thousands of stores and even more people in employment. There is no surprise that around 16 stores closed their doors every day in the first half of 2019, while only nine opened (PwC 2019) and 57,000 less people were employed within the retail industry over a given three month period in 2019, in comparison to the same period in 2018 (Office for Nation statistics 2019).

There has never been a more apt time to listen to the people driving these changes, these are the consumers that play the key role in ensuring brands thrive, these consumers include you and me.

In a time of low consumer confidence, we need to ensure retail spaces are motivating us to learn and are enabling us to form positive memories and emotions long after we have disengaged with a brand via the shop floor or shopping cart on our phone. We are emotional beings and the latest neuroscience tells us that emotions underpin all consumer actions, even our most rational, logical decisions (Annual Review of Psychology 2018). We need to create spaces that offer more than just a product; stacked shelves are the not the choices that our consumers are after, they want to surround themselves with environments that support learning and champion development.

Create multi – dimensional/purposeful spaces. Ones that can interchange, create unique experiences and an unexpected visit every time you interact with it. We need to challenge the way we approach the design of our spaces and demonstrate how our stores can provide flexibility and consumer support through the way it evolves over periods of time. This could be through clever zoning, areas that can transform through a kit of parts, or the development of complimentary service features that can tap into the interests of our audience.

‘Depop’s spaces in the USA demonstrate this thinking with their physical stores that are slowly showing up over East and West coasts. ‘Depop’ say; "Opened as a space for the community and creatives alike, come hang out, find rotating exhibitions, community pop-ups, and a photo studio you can book."

‘Visitors will be invited to join workshops, learn how to style fashion and lifestyle photo shoots, source vintage items and build a brand, together with other skills to help them grow into retail entrepreneurs.’

These spaces are not only being developed to build a community but also ensure our consumers stay engaged and curious on each interaction with the brand. Flexibility and adaptability of spaces has never been more important, staying agile and reactive is key for not only existing brands but brands that are struggling to re-engage with their audience.

We also need to ignite curiosity, a basic element of our cognition that can be found in all of us. This curiosity can be sparked through the use ofte temporary test bed spaces. While pop up stores are not brand new, the term first appeared in the early 2000s, they now represent approximately £8 billion in sales revenue and claim brands like Amazon, Facebook and Pantone.

These temporary pops ups and short-term lease stores are enabling not only giant online business to appear physically, but they are also giving smaller business the ability to show up where they may not have the capital to permanently reside. The investment here results in physical spaces generating hype and exclusivity. Companies such as ‘Appear Here’ have well established themselves within this space but we now see the revolution of ‘temporary’ with companies such as ‘WeMarket’.

"WeMarket’, retails answer to ‘we work’, ‘provides the only feasible solution for young designers who want to “own” their own store," says Di Zhang, principal partner at WAA, the studio behind the spatial design. "We feel the market is the best form of shopping. It promotes individuality and interaction. It also connects with the design narrative we’ve been developing for offline retail spaces over the past few years."

The store has been designed so the spaces can be sublet for undefined periods of time resulting in the number of designers renting changing and allowing others to upsize or downsize depending on sales.

These test-bed spaces are the sustainable solution to mass consumption, combatting waste. Our audience are driven by conscious purchasing, whether supporting an independent brand or recycling/reusing unwanted wares, they would rather support a brand that is honest in their practices than not. Larger retail giants are struggling to join the ‘sustainability revolution’ but a simple recognition for a healthier world can go a long way to influence a purchase trigger.

The same can be said for spaces promoting well-being and emotion.We know from neuroscientific studies that to create strong and positive connections with your consumer you need to play on all of your consumer’s senses and promote positive mental and physical well-being. Sensorial exploration enables higher levels of engagement through the experiential nature of capturing the stimuli of our human senses and in turn makes us feel good.

There has been a particular increase in Millennials who are more willing to pay for experiences and sensorial novelty over just a physical product than their predecessors. Run clubs, exercise classes, ‘Calm’ apps and ‘Stress cafes’ have started to evolve some of our most loved brands. With the rise of mental health issues amongst our audience they are craving brand connectivity that provides on an authentic supportive level with the comfort of community. Although highly app based, brands can still achieve populated physical spaces by amplifying its activity within store. Nike’s ‘Invitation to sport’ campaign runs training classes within its Flagship store in London. Booked online via your Nike+ app you then attend a physical class with like-minded teammates, all whilst being gifted the latest in innovated sportswear.

The look and feel of a space are never more important, but in these uncertain times we need to dig beneath the surface and listen rather than sell. A brands authenticity and relevancy has never been more important. Ultimately, we need to understand the drivers behind the shopping decisions and behaviours of our consumer so we can speak in their language, stay relevant and inspire them.

To conclude:

Talk about something that means something to them. Consumers don’t want to be sold to, they want to interact with human experiences that mirror their personal goals in life, for example to think more consciously and live more sustainably. Brands that are transparent in their morals and view point on such motivations are winning the consumer vote and helping people live up to their good intentions.

How is your brand taking responsibility and action on the topics that this new consumer is passionate about?

Make your consumers feel something, and we mean feel something good. More than ever the wellness economy is recruiting consumers on a daily basis. This is looking at the rise of physical health to more awareness on our mental wellbeing. We need to create spaces and tell stories that support our consumers and place them in a place of wellness and self-improvement.

How is your brand helping your consumer reach their aspirations?

Only integrate tech where it acts as an enabler. Using tech within a physical space doesn’t mean we cannot have human conversations. Tech allows for personalised experiences; consumers are happy to share data when it’s in exchange for this bespoke connectivity.

These same consumers are looking for seamless experiences where their traditional 9 to 5 is transformed by technology enabling an element of live, work and play within their schedules.

How is your brand using tech in a way that it is still creating a by-product of positive emotions and enabling a more streamlined life?

Lastly, make sure you are inclusive and talking to the right audience. With what we consider to be ‘traditional family units’ changing, we will see diversity being woven into a wider landscape including fashion and design. We need to explore these new identities and evolved attitudes through supporting consumers on topics such as body positivity, ethnic equality, gender and sexuality.

How is your brand connecting with this diverse audience with sophisticated empathy and helping them explore their evolved self?

Interested in hearing more? Seen Displays will be at the London Design Festival exploring the drivers behind the future consumer on the 17-19 September. They will also be releasing their findings into the industry post event. For more information email

Katie Mitchell, Managing director at Seen Displays.


Content by The Drum Network member:

Seen Displays

Born out of curiosity in 2013 with an aim to future proof our beloved industry, Seen Displays continue to give back and invest in ever developing research and insight....

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