‘Brands are becoming culture coders,’ retail trend researcher reveals

Following the previous retail trend report courtesy of innovation research and trends company Stylus, Stefanie Dorfer weighs in with five retail spaces tapping into culture and community.

Five brands creating a customer experience beyond retail

From basketball courts to performance stages, retail spaces are challenging traditional concepts of store design and functionality – exploring dexterous spaces that foster a sense of culture and community among consumers. By recognizing the power of these services or experiences that consumers might traditionally have sourced elsewhere, retail spaces can contribute critical added value and beyond-commercial engagement.

Last year, British department store Selfridges temporarily transformed the 325-sq-m Ultralounge event space in its London Oxford Street location into a state-of-the-art visual content studio and live music venue. Hosting performances by established and emerging artists, Ultralounge Selfridges gave 20 per cent of ticket profits to the Music Venues Trust to help its work in supporting grassroots music venues.

Created in partnership with TEM, a London-based collective of audio visual designers, the 360-degree stage featured large screens on which artists could project videos, creating a highly atmospheric and immersive space. Music videos of the live performances were also created in real time, and broadcast live on the Selfridges website.

With 40 per cent of music venues in London having closed in the last 10 years, there is huge mileage for retail brands to capitalize on the gaps left by the scarcity and under-funding of public venues with their physical spaces.

Leveraging its countercultural brand image, British footwear brand Dr. Martens’ Camden flagship in London hosts an experiential space called DM’s Boot Room, designed by retail design agency Closed Sundays. Featuring a permanent stage and backline, the retailer offers customers a full programme of music activation throughout the year.

With overall store design by Studio OL3, the Camden flagship combines the gig space with a product customization and personalization area, and showcases Dr. Martens’ authentic connection to music and youth subculture from the 1960s to the present day through one-off and never-before-seen brand items and music memorabilia. The unique heritage on display and interactive space solidifies a sense of culture and community between Dr. Martens and its fans.

Of course, this trend of integrating non-traditional functions within a space is not limited to hosting music performances in-store. Capitalizing on the service-led era into which retail is moving, smart brands are creating imaginative temples that complement their brand and product offerings. Nike for example has incorporated a 370-sq-m basketball court capable of seating 400 spectators within its new NYC office headquarters, designed by its in-house Workplace Design + Connectivity team in partnership with Studios Architecture. The court is free to use for Nike employees, brand ambassadors, local leagues and the various high-school teams that Nike mentors, and is complemented by kit and advice courtesy of star basketball atheletes.

To further nurture a sense of community, the space reportedly draws design inspiration from its New York City context, including landmarks like the High Line – an elevated linear park that follows over 2 km of abandoned railroad tracks. A material palette of wood and glass in white, orange and black colourways feature throughout.

Taking an equally holistic approach to sport, Reebok has opened a tiered-access space in Paris designed to serve as a culturally conscious sanctuary for active urbanites. Dubbed La Salle de Sport, the 1,700-sq-m destination taps into the entire healthy-living lifestyle, offering a gym, shop, event hub and relaxation area.

Taking cues from its locale – La Salle de Sport is housed in the premises of former art museum the Pinacothèque de Paris, in one of the city’s liveliest shopping and dining areas – the space also contrives to link sport with Parisian art and culture. Designed by Le Studio Be-Poles hand-in-hand with Reebok, the space is home to product launches and trials, photoshoots and art installations, as well as a Social Club that invites visitors to relax, socialize and meet some of Reebok's brand ambassadors.

Indeed, cultural sophistication is becoming increasingly important for luxury retailers as they can no longer solely rely on the weight of heritage or even traditional craftsmanship for brand equity. Brazilian footwear label Melissa, famous for its sculptural plastic shoes, has tapped into the long-standing relationship between fashion and art. Part boutique, part art gallery, its NYC flagship hosts a regular rotation of multimedia art exhibitions that build on the label’s penchant for high-profile product collaborations.

Photo Alex Fradkin

Photo Alex Fradkin

Designed by Brazilian architect Muti Randolph, the space opts for strict geometric lines and angles that visually distort the parameters of the store, offering a futuristic and otherworldly backdrop for the products and multimedia art on exhibit.

Photo Vincente Munoz

In today’s fast-paced and highly competitive environment, multipurpose modular spaces that facilitate the flexible ‘programming’ of a store’s function offer brands the best chance to create an engaging customer experience that is both unique and enduringly relevant.