Creative managing director of FRCH design and architecture firm explains how it reinvented the homegoods retailer's store format, leaning into experiential and revamping checkout to enable a more engaging and streamlined customer journey

Increasingly, the physical store is functioning as a tool for brands and retailers to interact with shoppers, engaging and entertaining them, in order to build strong, emotional connections in a way that they cannot do online. Retailers are experimenting with new, flexible retail formats, developing fresh visual identities that tell a brand story through design, implementing in-store technology to make the store experience more responsive and dedicating less floor space to inventory and more to offering services that add value and support ecommerce operations.

In this excerpt from the Store Experience Design Debrief, PSFK talks to Brandon Avery, creative managing director for FRCH Design Worldwide, about his work developing a new physical retail concept for The Container Store .

PSFK: Could you describe the trends affecting the retail space today, and that you're leveraging in your work?

Brandon Avery:  My area of focus within FRCH is retailers who have fairly big spaces—folks like Target, Dick's Sporting Goods, Whole Foods.

We're seeing that people are using these stores differently than they have in the past, thanks to the on-demand nature of today's retail climate, and transforming the store into more than just a pickup point.

Retailers are forced to think differently about the front of the store, as well as how much space to dedicate to service checkouts versus a more automated process,  as customers become more adapted to self-service technology.

People want to get in and get out of the store much quicker, which is a challenge when you're dealing with large spaces. We're breaking down that space down into more digestible chunks that make the consumer experience of shopping that store not so overwhelming and daunting. We're also making it more engaging in key moments without diminishing the other side of the coin, which is the need for certain items to be replenished quickly.

FRCH recently worked with The Container Store to develop a prototype known as the Next Generation Store. Could you explain how you approached this challenge and what led to the brand wanting to rethink its physical presence?

The Container Store wanted to reinvent itself, but wasn't quite sure what that meant or how to do it. It had a long legacy of being known for great customer service and having a high-quality product, yet it was stagnating.

The retailer wanted to recreate its North Park Dallas location, transforming it into a test-and-learn store, where it could drop new ideas in an incubator and experiment with new ideas or fixtures before rolling them out into all of its chains.

With that in mind, FRCH set off on a process to spend a lot of time in the retailer's stores, understand its competition and spend time with its customers to figure out what their overall perceptions were of the brand. We set out to understand what customers felt was working, what they felt like was missing and why they choose other brands for certain items versus The Container Store.

We uncovered a handful of opportunities. One was to drive shopper frequency by bringing some of the great products the brand has out of the shadows. All of its stores with the exception of one were presented in a big-box format, which didn't align with the brand's image of being an expert in a more niche market.

It was presented in an almost warehouse-style manner. We wanted to redesign the store so that all those great products including the more unique ones have a place to shine within the store.

There were also key categories that were ripe for reinvention, specifically kitchen, office and closets. We tried to make the rest of the store efficient, so that somebody could get in and get out easily, but also recreate the experiences of those categories to be much more inviting and engaging. We worked with an agency partner [MJD Interactive] on the digital side to help to bridge the physical and digital store experience, enabling a custom closet experience that was much more engaging and much more complete.

In addition to the custom closets, are there any new services or experiences that the store offers?

We redesigned the checkout experience. Before, the checkouts were right at the front. We said, “You're kind of leading the entry experience with the exit experience by doing that. Your customers are walking into registers, bags.” That was a lightbulb moment.

They gave us permission to shift that part of the experience to the side. Then that allowed us to create a single queue that everybody goes into so you're not constantly fighting over which lane you're in. By shifting that checkout experience away from the front door, we took advantage of the opportunity to let the front of the store play a different role.

What do you think about the role technology should play in the store?

It needs to be helpful. It needs to go beyond entertainment. It should actually be a tool, not just a big flashy screen in the space. We focused on a few different elements for improvement: Integrating screens into key categories like kitchen, office and closets, to enable inspiration.

Then we also created a tool called Organization Studio, which is intended to be a very functional but also engaging feature that helps customers get started on their organizational journey.

Are there any plans to extend this concept to other stores?

Yes. The idea was that The Container Store could take elements like the new checkout experience and deploy them in either existing stores as part of a retrofit program or incorporate certain elements into new stores.

The Container Store 

FRCH

This is just one example of many inspiring innovations in store experience and design in the digital age. For the full list, download PSFK's Store Experience Design Debrief now.

Increasingly, the physical store is functioning as a tool for brands and retailers to interact with shoppers, engaging and entertaining them, in order to build strong, emotional connections in a way that they cannot do online. Retailers are experimenting with new, flexible retail formats, developing fresh visual identities that tell a brand story through design, implementing in-store technology to make the store experience more responsive and dedicating less floor space to inventory and more to offering services that add value and support ecommerce operations.