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Using Sensory Design to Compete Against Online Retail

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © radenmas | Fotolia

With the dawning of online retail and the displacement or forced evolution of places like bookstores and malls, designers are beginning to use sensory design to win out (or at least stay in the running) against their online competitors. You see, such brick-and-mortar retail stores are tapping into what the senses can yield from design, to make shopping in their business a true experience. And this experience for the senses is what limits online retailers today.

As branding expert Martin Lindstrom points out:

“You can’t compete on volume, you can’t compete on prices because the online retailer will always win.” (1)

Shopping as a Destination Point

Of course, shopping has already been a place where one can meet up with friends, go to see new fashions or gadgets, and even simply do a quick run to the store to get that one missing item fast. But what else can brick-and-mortar stores do as they lose business to the online retailers that offer great discounts?

In this case, shopping becomes a destination or attraction, where shoppers go for the experience, the sense of place and the people. For instance, the super market Lowes Foods is doing just that. Complete with singing shows, kinetic signage and mini-stations for tasting and talking — shopping here becomes a unique experience that the online retailer cannot match in quite the same way. (1)

Next Steps for Online Retailers

Perhaps the online retail world can create new experiences of their own, albeit, the digital kind. As Amazon further tests such technologies as drones and one-day shipping, perhaps speed, price and “digital” experience will help online retailers to feed the senses in different ways.

Yet, it will be interesting to see how the brick-and-mortar businesses carve out their evolutionary path as digital retailers gain more and more momentum. Does this mean that brick-and-mortar stores will need a “digital” face as well? And does this mean that those brick-and-mortar businesses are being forced to evolve to bring even greater value for their customers who shop in person?

Different Kinds of Personalization

One could argue that the brick-and-mortar stores are more personalized — where the employees know you by name and where they know what you buy and can make great recommendations. Yet, online retails can do this too — not face-to-face, but with perhaps a bigger selection from which to bring you what merchandise you want and need.

Thus, brick-and-mortar businesses will need to excel with sensory design in different ways than online retailers. They need to offer what the digital world cannot — and perhaps this means offering a community, a unique experience and unparalleled products coming from a memorable brand.

The online retailers do different things best. Sometimes they compete, but other times they can be complimentary. As the battle between online and brick-and-mortar businesses continues, it will be interesting to see how each will evolve. Both must use sensory design — even if capitalizing upon it in different ways.

Reference:

(1) Yates, Kristina. Retail in the Digital Age: Chicken Dances and More. CNBC. July 11, 2014.

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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.

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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.

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McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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