With windowless retail on the rise, will try-on areas become shop designers' main focus?

As window shopping is increasingly done via the consumers’ handheld devices, retailers are questioning the value of traditional storefronts in acquiring passers-by. As a result, in the age of click-and-collect, shops are starting to face inwards to heighten intrigue. But while outside kerbside presence is traded for concealment, inside the roles are reversed. The fitting room, previously tucked away in a hidden corner, now takes centre stage, becoming a backdrop for livestream shopping and retail theatre.  

Shenzhen – Windowless retail is on the rise as storefronts are losing their role as a key merchandising tool. Traditionally used to communicate brand identity, enable product discovery and draw in passing customers, window displays now have to compete with a myriad of handheld and wearable devices. That doesn’t mean retailers are surrendering to the screen. They are well aware of the fact that social media drives sales, and to benefit from that, their stores should facilitate online sharing.

With retailers adopting inward-facing strategies, the battle for customer attention is moving from the street side to the inside. Here, shopkeepers are creating engaging environments that not only offer visitors an exciting offline experience, but also fill the role of Instagram bait. In these retail theatres, the fitting room, to an increasing extent, plays a leading role. Why? Because stores in general are literally becoming destinations to try things on, and are no longer per definition places of transaction.

In Frame 129, Docee Dong, cofounder of Daylab, pointed out that their retail clients are often more concerned with creating a memorable experience for customers than with earning money in-store. ‘If clients enjoy their visit, they’ll order online later,’ he said. As a result, on-site inventory can be minimized in favour of large – and highly prominent – try-on zones. So in designing the physical space of e-commerce platform Heyshop, that’s exactly what the Shanghai-based studio did.

Architecture practice Studio 10 took a similar approach when tasked to design a store for Chinese womenswear brand Geijoeng in Shenzhen, China. The shop’s entrance corridor and window displays are paved with semi-transparent glass brick, producing the mysterious atmosphere inherent to the abovementioned windowless storefronts. Once curious shoppers enter the 120-sq-m shop floor, they are welcomed by ‘ghostly’ layers of reflective and translucent materials. Central to the design concept is – you guessed it – the fitting room. Quite literally that is. The acrylic tube, which is lined with a theatrical green velour curtain from Raf Simons’ collection for Kvadrat, is carefully placed in the middle of the space.

The use of the fitting room is becoming a social experience rather than a purely functional act

‘The fitting room has become a more important aspect of retail in the age of social media. Changing room selfies and approvals on social media affect the retail experience, so we imagined the space as a small floating stage, a statement piece,’ says Studio 10’s principal Shi Zhou. ‘It acts as a backdrop for performance-like purposes. The use of the fitting room is becoming a social experience rather than a purely functional act.’ Hence Zhou believes the fitting room is an added opportunity for designers to create a space of engagement for people to share and interact – both offline and online. 

E-commerce may be dubbed the main competitor to in-store shopping, but physical outlets can also cash in on the convenience offered by digital merchandise options. Cleared of excess stock, shop floors can be dedicated to the act of fitting. So, rather than the last element to be incorporated in the retail scheme, try-on areas could become the designer’s main focus. Changing room selfies will do the rest. 


This piece will be featured in our forthcoming Mar—Apr 2020 issue, Frame 133.

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Frame 133

The March/April issue of Frame explores how the modern museum is moving from conservation to activation. Instead of quietly mouldering away in the 21st century, museums are innovating to become critical voices in the wider societal conversation. How? By engaging with the major issues of today through platforms that are borderless, revitalizing and inclusive.

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