Ahead of speaking on the panel IRL Retail Design in a Digital Age, Whereabout founder and creative director Gabriela Baiter explains how the studio helps digitally native brands as well as retailers like Uber and Floyd enable dynamic, interactive, memorable experiences that foster community and drive engagement

If the future store doesn’t look like a store at all, then what is it? It’s a coworking space, a gallery, a wellness sanctuary and so much more, says Gabriela Baiter, founder and creative director of experiential retail design studio Whereabout. Located at the juncture of brand marketing and retail innovation, Whereabout aims to transform passive showrooms into meaningful brand outposts for today's consumers, helping brands to navigate the future of retail through pop-ups and in-store experiences.

Ahead of speaking on the NYRIW panel IRL Retail Design in a Digital Age, Gabriela caught up with PSFK to explain how Whereabout Studio helps retailers enable entertaining and community-driven retail for the new phygital age, offering digitally-savvy consumers seamless and memorable discovery and shopping.

Could you describe any retail or consumer experience trends you've noticed, and that you're leveraging in the work that you do?

Something that I’m noticing is that pop-up stores are moving off the vacant high street and into unexpected private and public spaces. What results from this are fresh store concepts that help their customers better contextualize the brand’s products through rich storytelling and programming that celebrate a lifestyle above anything else.

For example, Restoration Hardware didn’t accidentally stumble upon a compound in Napa. By showing their products in this unique aspirational context, their customers become emotionally attached ,which further drives evangelism for the brand.

At Whereabout, we leveraged this to create multi-brand pop-ups for Floyd and Hunker by avoiding the store entirely and housing their retail experience within unique homes across the U.S. People were able to hang out and discover products in a real environment hours beyond an average store visit. In addition to homes, we also explored this tactic at private events.

This past November we worked with Uber to create a pop-in Start-up studio at the Girlboss Rally to help female entrepreneurs roll up their sleeves and move toward their dreams. The Rally was the perfect fit to create trust with an audience they wouldn’t have reached.

What inspired or motivated you to found Whereabout? Were there any gaps or unmet consumer needs you wanted to fill?

Even though my parents owned a video store years before Blockbuster, I never thought I’d find myself in retail. The truth is, years before retail became experiential, I would dream up pop-up experiences for fun. I started a wandering supper club to meet new people in Portland, Oregon. I joined Uber because I was fascinated with experiential stunts like #UberKittens and #UberIcecream winning over the internet. After a few years of delivering the impossible on demand at Uber, I moved over to the retail team to humanize Uber’s 650 driver hubs. The project serendipitously dropped me into retail and I’ve been obsessed ever since.

With more and more online brands adding retail to their arsenal, my background in tech and innate passion for experiential is a unique skill set to creating an agency that breathes new life into stores.

What does “retail design in a digital age” mean to you? How would you define it, and what can it do at its best?

We’re in the age of “Phygital design,” meaning that the products and experiences we create must accommodate a digital-savvy consumer who still genuinely enjoys shopping in physical stores. Every aspect of a store should be designed with this customer in mind, optimizing every detail to move seamlessly between these two channels. This can be anything from a data-rich window display that lures them in, to a seamless checkout experience that remembers their fashion style and keeps them coming back for more.

All of this helps create an even deeper relationship with your customers in ways you can’t deliver online. While sending a drip series of emails to a customer is considered “customer relationship management,” giving them the ability to text a stylist and reserve items at their local store is a whole new level of personalization.

Fellow Products Retail Showroom in San Francisco's Mission District

Retail is continuing to evolve and transform before our eyes. How do you help stores embrace this change—can you list a few major pillars of what you help them deliver?

I. Moving away from sales / square foot to experience / square foot
For the last 100 years stores have been a key channel to drive sales. With people now having a cash register in their pockets, stores no longer need to be solely transactional. Instead they can work a lot harder for a brand by removing old school retail design tactics and replacing it with rich experiences that tell the brand story and most importantly drive loyalty.

II. Creating “a destination” over anything else
At Whereabout, we’re constantly finding ways to create stores that don’t look anything like stores. A strong retail concept creates a place-based destination that shows up in everything from the store’s name to the store associate’s attire to the dressing room and even the receipts. Without this, you risk being forgetful.

III. The lifecycle of a store visitor is a lot longer than you think
I’m continually surprised at the sophistication of today’s in-store tech. A lifelong relationship can come out of a store visit only if brands are properly capturing their visitors interests and working to deliver value moments after they leave.

IV. Don’t forget about solving a problem
A great concept is nothing if it doesn’t solve a problem. By simply mapping out your customer’s mindset at every step of their journey, you can find dozens of barriers to trial and purchase. Burrow, the modular couch startup, helped its customers experience comfort by creating a cinema that got customers to “Netflix and Chill” for 2 hours! The Google Hardware Store helped its customers better understand intimidating smart home technology by shouting obscure commands in a “smart” tree house. The fun is in finding the answer.

Could you share any insights on what you think consumers need or want most out of their IRL store experiences right now?

Consumers are craving community now more than ever. As digital continues to dominate our lives, people are looking for opportunities to get out in the world and interact with others. While this provides an amazing opportunity for retail, it means stores are in direct competition with live entertainment and hospitality. This not only creates interesting opportunities for collaboration, it is reinvigorating retail as we know it.

Could you give an example of a retailer you worked with, what you helped them build and how it enhanced their retail strategy?

Our studio has worked with some amazing digitally native consumer brands to design their pop-up store, and in some cases open up their very first retail locations.

This past year we worked with the direct-to-consumer furniture brand Floyd Detroit to launch a living showroom inside an actual home. The home was located at Blackbird, an experimental community in contemporary urban living that we reimagined with 10 other brands. We created a Block Party to announce the opening, and a week-long Housewarming celebration complete with a fully stocked pantry, design library and “pop-in” shop.

This informed the brand's marketing calendar for several months, leading to its customers pitching their neighborhood for the next Floyd location. With so many like-minded partners wanting to get on board, Floyd was introduced to thousands of new customers they would have never had access to before.

What do you hope to share at the panel during NYRIW?

My goal at New York Retail Innovation Week is to help shed light on the future of retail by knocking down every preconceived notion people have of stores. While I’m in the pop-up industry, there’s a formula that I’m noticing that needs to be disrupted. If the future store doesn’t look like a store at all, then what is it? It’s a coworking space, a gallery, a wellness sanctuary and so much more.

What's in store for the future of Whereabout? Anything you can share?

While we love solving retail challenges for our clients, it’s inevitable that we will one day create destinations of our very own. We’re constantly on the hunt for real estate opportunities that can become a test bed for new multi-brand experiences. Whether it’s a branded boutique hotel experience or an indoor dog park, we’re excited for the future.

Whereabout

Come listen to Gabriela share more insights at the IRL Retail Design In A Digital Age panel, part of New York Retail Innovation Week. The 45-minute discussion will explore the process of converting retail trends into living and customer-facing storefronts, and more broadly the store experience in the age of screens and other digital interfaces. Tickets available here!

If the future store doesn’t look like a store at all, then what is it? It’s a coworking space, a gallery, a wellness sanctuary and so much more, says Gabriela Baiter, founder and creative director of experiential retail design studio Whereabout. Located at the juncture of brand marketing and retail innovation, Whereabout aims to transform passive showrooms into meaningful brand outposts for today's consumers, helping brands to navigate the future of retail through pop-ups and in-store experiences.