Let’s get this out of the way: it’s such a simple but effective space-saving idea, we’re surprised we don’t see it more often. Instead of a dedicated fitting room area, usually located off to a corner of the retail floorplan, Daylab Studio turned the fitting booths into hallways by using an everyday mechanism most of us are already acquainted with: the OCUPPIED/PASS button from public transportation toilets.

The solution came from an unexpected place: as they only had 200 sq-m to work with, the client had asked them for more display space for their SKUs, a request most interior architects tend to solve with shelving or rotating storage. Instead, the designers decided to move the booths to the middle of the shop, using a row of seven cylinders that separate the home accessories section in the front from the clothing section in the back. Due to the shape of the fitting-room unit, a single movement of the curtain opens the front and rear door hole at the same time, while simultaneously activating an infrared device that turns the indicator light on or off. ‘The solution is quite simple,’ joked Daylab designer Aimee Liu.

But here is where things get even more interesting: there’s a reason why the client needed more display space than storage or fitting rooms. Like many online retailers gone physical, to Chinese e-commerce platform Heyshop the key to this new space was not on-site inventory, but single-item showcase. ‘Because of [its click-and-mortar nature], the display quantity of each item was less important, since it could be shown online,’ explained team member Yongpeng Liu.

Smaller e-tailers looking for a pilot physical layout that can help them test display waters could consider this solution

And here is where they get more complicated: due to this way of operating, Heyshop asked for a rather flexible display system. ‘The products come from different brands and even different categories,’ added designer Docee Dong. ‘Based on big-data analysis, whole brands and categories can be replaced in one season – today they sell cosmetics, while tomorrow it can be electronics.’ That’s because the platform, founded in 2016, provides indie brands with tools to set up their own online store, no coding necessary – think of Tictail or Shopify over on this side of the globe. Daylab responded with a bespoke perforated stack system that could display all manner of unexpected items in several sizes.

In other words: faithful to its drag-and-drop online origins, the only permanent structure in this phygital retail space is the central row of cylinders. It’s one of the leanest examples of omnichannel spatial translations we’ve seen in the past year, and a smart cost-reducing design strategy. Although Heyshop is a large player, smaller e-tailers looking for a pilot physical layout that can help them test display waters could consider this solution. ‘So we ended up not only offering a fancy store, but we also tried to redefine the rules of the retail game in this new age,’ offered Dong. Indeed, they did.