Chinese cosmetics retailer Harmay has been busy literally building its business this year. Previously in e-sales only, the company has unveiled its third location, a massive store in Beijing designed by Aim Architecture. Since the opening, it been rated as the number one retail store in the city on China’s popular experience-rating app Dazhongdianping and social media and e-commerce platform Xiaohongshu.

This, undoubtedly, has something to do with the hands-on customer experience that defines a trip to any of Harmay’s physical posts. The Aim team has been responsible for all three: the company’s 650-sq-m Beijing store follows a discovery-led Hong Kong shop opened earlier in 2019 and the Shanghai flagship, completed in 2017. Tapping into natural human curiosity and expressing that through spatial design has been an incredibly valuable strategy in Aim’s work for Harmay – it answers to the why of customers opting to make an in-store visit versus ordering from the website. A spokesperson for the Shanghai-based architects says that ‘Stepping into one of the online retail giant’s physical stores is designed to be like stepping behind the scenes: the products, distribution and delivery process area are all put out for the consumer to engage with.’ The Beijing space, specifically, is meant to organically cast customers as characters in a play of sorts, leaving people feeling as if their time shopping has been spent actively, not passively.

Spread out over two floors, the store’s layout has a gaping void constructed between to enhance visibility. Customers are eased into the shopping experience on the first floor, where a huge assembly table displays lucrative, fast-moving items – the structure creates a sense of guidance and momentum, functioning to tie the product together and provide a semi-enclosed working area for staff. A spiral staircase then invites shoppers upwards, where rows of steel shelves are lined with cosmetics. Here, there are five product-focused rooms, developed to enhance offline sales engagement – there’s an area for travel kits, perfumes, luxury cosmetics and product try-on. The last space, a white, black space, is an ‘invitation to write the next act on their own.'

Harmay's theatrical production really begins on the sidewalk. Two tiny doors, installed in an opaque, exterior glass-brick façade offer the only way to enter the store. The architects explain that the ‘absence of seeing makes the exterior statement more powerful –  there’s only the seduction of shadows and movement, like seeing shapes behind a curtain or hearing footsteps on the stage.’