The Perspective 
Wednesday, 02 April 2014

David Anzia
Frank Mayer & Associates

Consumers today face an almost unlimited array of media and merchandise to compete for their time and resources. According to a recent Nielsen Newswire, Americans’ retail trip frequency has decreased by 15 percent over the last six years, while basket size has only increased by 9 percent. This is a trend that cuts across income levels and has implications for a wide range of retailers.

With shoppers visiting stores less frequently and ever present competition, retailers have their work cut out for them to attract customers to their stores and increase their dwell time. With hyper-connected shoppers, there’s much thought and discussion about interactive in-store experiences, but a recent visit by a colleague to the flagship store of Whole Foods Market reinforced the importance of visual merchandising and store ambiance to retail experience.  

Retailers have a lot of competing demands and a whole host of touchpoints that didn’t exist a decade ago, but they can’t lose sight of the power that physical design and in-store merchandising have on customer experience. Whole Foods Market is not a current client, but as an in-store merchandising company serving a mix of retailers and brands across a variety of categories, we admire the way Whole Foods has carried out its philosophy to create store environments that are “inviting and fun, and reflect the communities they serve”.

As much as any retailer can, Whole Foods embodies the notion that stores aren’t simply places to buy things; you can buy things--even groceries—online.   Careful planning of every detail naturally occurs when company headquarters sits atop your store, as it does in the heart of Austin, and the effect is awe inducing, a retail feast for the senses.

The Austin flagship is an example of store as destination – a concept that can maintain the health of physical retail. The store itself is large, but each department is, in fact, a destination made manageable and engaging by display materials that reinforce a natural, wholesome, clean positioning and ample, friendly, sometimes whimsical, signage that reflects the Whole Foods brand.

The Austin venue is more than a market, it is a social center with outdoor dining that draws people off the street and multiple indoor food bars that invite people to linger and interact. It has the feel of a community hub.

Reflective of its location in a music-loving city where even the airport has live musicians, it is an entertainment venue that attracts people and invites them to stay. The store contains a live stage; where on a Friday afternoon musicians were setting up to usher patrons into weekend mode.

Common design elements are a necessity for all chains, but Whole Foods strives for product and visual connections that reinforce a local feel. The local ambiance is reinforced in part by a neon “Love Austin” sign hanging above merchandise that celebrates the city. In Detroit, for example, it is reflected in Motown 45-LP records that adorn the checkout lane markers. These are elements that might appeal to civic pride and spark a little allegiance in an era when it is harder to come by.

Not every retailer can be Whole Foods Market, but every retailer should be focused on the elements that ensure that physical stores are places of discovery and delight and can instill some sense of loyalty so we are enticed to get out from behind our screens, loosen our pocketbooks and experience retail with all our senses and some of our emotions.

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