Retailer Challenge: Reinvent Yourself

Veteran store designer highlights the need to emotionally connect with shoppers

New Radio Shack

The new RadioShack has hands-on stations organized around themes such as "Build It," "Play It," "Rock It," "Power It" and "Connect It."

DÜSSELDORF, Germany -- As technology transforms multi-channel retail into hyper-channel, “always-on” retailing, chains must emotionally connect with consumers as never before, advised veteran store designer Joseph Bona during a Feb. 19 speech at EuroShop, the global trade fair.

“Emotion plus theatrics equals experience,” said Bona, president, branded environments for CBX, the New York City-based brand agency and retail design consultancy that has had a hand in numerous convenience store designs.

“Storytelling ability, in particular, helps you create engaging experiences, and the memory of those experiences can inspire consumers by adding excitement and drama to routine transactions,” Bona said. “Ultimately, this is what energizes brand culture and drives long-term customer loyalty, even in a world perpetually driven to digital distraction.”

Bona’s presentation—“Format Reinvention: the Changing Face of Retail”—highlighted the need for retailers to further rethink the function of their brick-and-mortar stores. Today’s “always on” environment doesn’t only mean that people can buy whatever they want using their phones and tablets, it also means they can use GPS- and cloud-enabled tools to find the very best retail and dining experiences available to them, wherever they happen to be in the world, Bona said.

“Physical stores can no longer be what they used to be—namely, distributors of other people’s goods at reasonable prices in convenient locations,” Bona said. “They must offer sights, sounds, tastes, touch, emotion—3D experiences that 2D can’t achieve. When your customers look at Yelp! or Google Reviews, you want them to read about how your in-store experience was entertaining and inspiring. You want them to read about how going to your store is always a special treat.”

To illustrate this point, Bona showed the audience examples of redesign work CBX has completed for clients such as Duane Reade, RadioShack and South American c-store retailer Terpel.

In its newly designed flagship stores, RadioShack now has hands-on stations organized around themes such as “Build It,” “Play It,” “Rock It,” Power It” and “Connect It.” These new layouts are open, inviting and experiential, he said. “It’s all about higher engagement points and making RadioShack stores much more interactive,” Bona said. “Shoppers can touch and play with the products and interact with store associates in new and richer ways. The point is to bring the experience to life and make it fun, as opposed to the old approach of having a bunch of static stuff, locked down and inaccessible.”

Likewise, CBX helped major Columbian gas station operator Terpel reinvent the experience of fueling up your car and grabbing convenience items on the go. The chain’s new c-store designs include futuristic, wing-like canopies flying over the pumps, with service bars, modern furniture and other unexpected flourishes inside its stores. In helping Terpel contemplate “the fuel station of the future,” CBX produced designs with green roofs, solar panels, recycled asphalt pavement and sky- and LED-lit canopies.

“Overall, retailers need to push the envelope and keep asking one basic question: ‘How do you maintain a pillar of affection and human touch while there’s a simultaneous shift to increasing human interaction with technology?’ ” Bona said. “On a strategic level, we think the answer is fairly simple: Make your customer experience second-to-none in authenticity and relevance. Execution is all about thoroughly understanding who your customer is, and what your customer wants and needs from a retail experience.”

CBX, New York, is a brand agency specializing in corporate identity, consumer branding and retail.