Experimental Formats in Retail: 5 Design Strategies

House of Vans skate park

It is highly unlikely that anyone would question the fact that online shopping has provoked severe changes in consumer preferences and disturbed the retail world. Considering an unprecedented increase in use of mobile devices, online shopping has become a daily routine, especially for millennials. That is why brick-and -mortar retail stores, in order to keep up with the changing times, offer their customers things not feasible in an online store.

Two fit young women in sportswear doing jumps on a bench together during a early morning workout in the city

The future lies in experimental and experience-based retail formats. Considering online competitors, industry leaders are shifting their focus from a functional approach to creating a positive user experience.

Fila store

The focus on service is substantiated by both logic and statistics: 52% of millennials’ expenses go to purchases related to obtaining a unique consumer experience. In order to succeed, retailers should offer it to consumers, and the latter, will stimulate the sales.

Many of the most innovative retail concepts are being introduced for the first time by large brands with huge budgets. Although the latter are, naturally, in a better position than small sellers, this does not mean that small enterprises cannot offer their customers something creative and memorable. In this article, we explore several approaches that could be useful.

Use mobility and good timing of Pop-up

Ministry of Supply Pop-Up Store in Santa-Monica

Whether you are looking to sell as much as possible during a limited period of time, or increase brand awareness, launch a new product, catch a Black Friday or a special event with a high concentration of the target audience, it is an adequate format to be used. The pop-up store or “temporary store” format trace roots back to Christmas markets and weekend festivals. About 10 years ago, after another downturn in economy, this format began to develop in contemporary retail, and empty shopping areas started to get filled up with new brands embracing an online first strategy.

Adidas Pop-up store

Now the estimated turnover of pop-up format in the United States only accounts for about $50 billion. A pop-up store can look like an exhibition stand, a special installation or container, it could as well be a vehicle.

Topshelf boutique Pop-up truck

A key feature is that the store opens for a short time, making the format especially popular in fashion segment. Until recently a pop-up was used primarily as a marketing tool, now the focus has shifted to actual sales.

Alexis Bittar Pop-up in Art Basel

An interesting case is the truck installed by a jewelry brand Alexis Bittar for the Art Basel fair in Miami. Volkswagen’s classic golden van inspired visitors to take selfies with the car between the shows, becoming sort of an art installation that transformed commerce, brand promotion, and artistic expression into a memorable experience.

Create a personalized virtual experience

Jaguar in-store technology

Jaguar with technical support from IBM has launched a new in-store virtual reality screen. Using touch technology, customers can see and test their Jaguar model on this screen.  It uses the solutions developed by the British gaming company Eutechnyx and JLR, as well as IBM, Smarter Commerce Intelligent Commerce Experience. A consumer chooses the model, make, color and characteristics of the car, sees it and hears using the iPad and Microsoft Kinect. This technology also allows you to get into the car and view the details of the cabin with a 360-degree view. Changes can be made in real time mode.

Combine the best of online and offline


Farfetch is an online platform where you can buy clothes from the best fashion boutiques, successfully positioning itself as a technology provider for brands. Jose Neves, CEO of Farfetch, in an interview with British Vogue back in 2017, expressed his strong concerns about the steady decline in offline retail; it is projected to decrease to 80 percent of sales by 2025.

Farfetch offline shop

Neves has created the Farfetch Store of the Future, an advanced retail solution that «connects online and offline worlds using data to enhance retail.» In its store in London, the company connected clothes hangers to the Internet, made touch-screen mirrors and entry stations, which used online data in a real store to search shopping history and wish-list providing valuable customer information. A smart mirror helps with the selection of size, the search for alternatives and with payment directly from the dressing room.

Browns boutique London

For this project, Bloomberg awarded Farfetch the title of “Retailer of the Future”, appreciating the harmonious combination of the best features of real boutiques, speed and convenience of online shopping.

Offer a creative test-drive or workshop

Crate and Barrel restaurant Chicago

American furniture and home goods retailer Crate and Barrel has launched a restaurant in its Chicago store. This concept proved to be successful, restaurants are a great way to keep customers in the store for a longer time, and Crate and Barrel has the added an extra benefit: most items in the restaurant can be bought in the store. The retailer also collaborates with local celebrity chef Bill Kim in this project. When the restaurant is closed, the space is used for other events, such as culinary master classes in order to maximize the potential of the space.

Ikea also used this approach when they came up with the “Ikea Night” promo, which allowed a limited number of customers to actually spend one night in the store, choosing everything necessary from the goods available from the store.

Fellow Store + Playground for coffee

The Fellow Store + Playground, the flagship store of the Fellow coffee brand in San Francisco, offers short demonstrations and tastings, as well as  classes on advanced beverage technologies hosted by professional baristas. These events not only give customers the opportunity to learn more about coffee as a product but also introduce them to Fellow’s extensive range of products.

Be Community-Driven

House of Vans skate park

The House of Vans in London follows the “off the wall” motto. It is a place where art, music, BMX, street culture and fashion converge. In addition to cinemas, cafes, concert halls and an art gallery on the lower floor of the space is — a surprise! — a concrete ramp, a mini-ramp and a street track. Nothing would embody the values of the Vans brand better than a space where young people can shop and also communicate spontaneously. The House of Vans is a great example of how retailers can use targeted activities to expand their shopping opportunities.

Peak Design coworking

Another example is a coworking place for local photographers, artists, and designers set up by Peak Design store of accessories for photographers. Every Wednesday from 13:00 to 17:30 the Peak Design showroom in San Francisco becomes a place for them to work together. The project is solving the urgent need of the community and gaining new customers in the future.

Evaluate the results

A positive shopping experience creates a steady return on investment for retailers, ensuring brand loyalty. Today’s consumers have higher expectations than ever before, and quality store time is quickly becoming the new standard.

Pantone cafe-pop-up Monaco

«The best way to create a user experience is a repetitive strategy, not a one-time trick. Significant experience of communicating with the brand is makes a customer  return time after time, because the service is excellent, or you have a relationship with the person who works there. This is something that is very different from the experience of shopping on the Internet», summarizes Arpan Podduturi, product director of  Shopify, a platform for launching a business.

By Larissa Kostrova