[insert-author-info] In today’s technology-rich environment, how are retailers staying relevant, growing, and adapting? The answer is experiential retail. To compete and complement online shopping, retailers are creating stores that speak to their brand in three dimensions. Earlier this week, I attended Experiential Shopping: More Than Just a Store, an SMPS New York retail panel hosted at Trunk Club’s offices at 300 Park Avenue. Covering the retail landscape on multiple levels, the panelists discussed changes in customer shopping behavior and how technology and online shopping have influenced store design and real estate. Jim Scarpone, Director of Business Development for Shawmut Construction moderated the panel which included Greg Tannor, Director, Retail Services at Cushman & Wakefield; Liza Lax Gordon, Senior Director of Sales at Trunk Club; Krissy Lipka, Visual Merchandising Manager at Cole Haan; and Jordan Claffey, Executive Vice President of Retail leasing at RFR. Here are six aspects of the evolving retail experience which panelists discussed: Technology and experiential shopping Technology and mobility have created a new paradigm for retailers in which stores and online shopping represent a single strategy to reach customers. This omni-channel approach requires a unified brand presence and messaging across platforms making for seamless product launches and seasonal campaigns. Krissy Lipka from Cole Haan noted that Cole Haan’s website mimics store design. It switches inventory on the same day to keep consistent—and whatever is selling online is what gets moved to the front of the store. Online informs the brick and mortar presence and allows customers more flexibility on how and when they shop. “Retailers that started online such as Amazon, Warby Parker, and Birchbox are opening up brick and mortar stores while their online buzz is at its peak,” says Cushman & Wakefield’s Greg Tannor. Showrooms and mobile check-out Retailers are reducing their back of house, carrying reduced inventory, putting the emphasis all on the sales floor and even eliminating the cash register and cash wrap. In this new retail model, sales associates perform all necessary transactions from mobile devices or handheld card readers enabling them to interact more closely with the customers and eliminating the hassle of queueing up at the register. The iPad can serve other purposes as well, announcing the customer’s name or allowing them to browse a brochure while a stylist is pulling product. Multi-purpose retail Shedding square footage in pricey urban markets, retailers are combining retail store formats with office space. By planning spaces more efficiently and storing less product, retailers can support increased personnel, trade showrooms, and even cash flow partnerships like in-house cafes that help offset rent. Trunk Club offers “Starbucks style” workspace for customers in their bar/lounge for clients working before a stylist appointment. Liza Lax Gordon from Trunk Club says “this makes clients feel as if it’s their space. With its living room style seating one might forget it’s a store.” Keeping up More flexible store designs allow retailers to shift product and merchandising displays quickly, and easily reconfigure for larger renovations. In a quickly changing marketplace, retailers typically do new fit outs every 3-5 years to keep their brands feeling fresh and current. Refreshing sets the stage for new lines–Tiffany’s eyewear line, for example. Customers expect to see new things from retailers making introducing new lines more palatable. Retailers are always asking the question “How do you reinvent yourself? How can AEC firms get on the list? Panelists agreed that previous work, reputation, an understanding of retail design in addition to a business relationships are the key factors to working in this experiential retail world. Great store design is all about touch, feel and getting the right look for the brand. The most loyal customers connect with a retailer on an emotional level. The store environment is the perfect place to make that personal and sensory connection. When the architect aligns with the brand, magic happens.