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Designing for the Future of Shopping

Image Credit: © Victor Zastol | Dreamstime

You enter a store. It is probably not on your mind that its design layout was put together to optimize purchases made by you. You shop, you browse and; hopefully, you buy. Yet still, stores are doing whatever they can to market for what they call “the moment of truth” – that moment you decide to reach for your item. As a designer, does the collection of these moments ultimately yield the success of your design?

In the Economist magazine, an article entitled The Science of Shopping – The Way the Brain Buysdissects grocery store shopping. It takes a look at both current and future designs for shopping experience. Of course, such designs go beyond simple product placement on shelves where the aim is often to increase “dwell time”. As we progress into the future, shopping experiences will have as much to do with marketing to our subconscious as they have to do with new shopping “analysis” technologies.

It strikes me that the Science of Shopping article delves into how stores plan to influence shoppers using surveillance technologies. From devices that automatically scan product prices in your cart (using RFID tags) to technology that detects and calculates facial expression with purchase history; stores will seem to do whatever they can to make those sales. But, what will happen to shopping experience?

The article states that retail design will market by tapping evermore into shopper emotion and memory. It seems that targeting the senses is a priority. For example, the article describes a supermarket that makes use of the olfactory sense where aromas of fresh linens help to sell items in the laundry section. Also, cameras that do real-time analysis of a shopper in action may provide streaming data of how a shopper moves through a store. Where the shopper stops, what the shopper picks up and sets back down, what the shopper has placed in his or her cart all are dynamic pieces of information to be used for (or against) the shopper. (It depends on how you see it.)

Already, there are privacy groups against such types of surveillance. Would you want your shopping history or practices revealed? Also, can stores really and truly influence your shopping to the extent that they predict? I wonder how many people go into a store, get what they need and then get out. I know for sure that good design plays a major role in the success or failure of a retail marketing tactic.

Integrated marketing within retail environments makes for good interaction design. The key is to provide helpful services that truly make shopping and buying better. I have to question the importance of bombarding a shopper with needless and often wasteful “suggestions”. Even if surveillance technologies could read the brain, as they say they will in the future, will the suggestion of what is perceived as a “pleasurable” product be a helpful contribution or a waste of energy while shopping?

In the end, it is always important to be a smart shopper. As architects and designers, it makes sense to selectively target the enhancements for shopper experience. As the article stipulates — “The notion of shoppers wearing brain scanning hats would be ridiculous”. Design for shopping experience in the future by doing more than pushing a product simply because a shopper’s brain lit up when shown that product. Find valuable meaning to make those sales for designs that keep shoppers coming back.

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what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

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