Trends can be fleeting, and the idea of style is never static. It’s true in fashion, and it’s true in retail design. To ensure that we continue to be great at what we do (signage, display and in-store experience development), our team of visual creatives and marketing strategists regularly wanders the mean streets of Lower Fifth Avenue, scoping out what’s fresh and bold and surprising. Here are the intriguing trends we discovered in August:
Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have changed the way people speak, connect and present themselves. Social media has created a visual lexicon that most people understand in a glance – and soon speak fluently.
It is a language of simple forms, repetition and symbols that facilitates authentic storytelling and curation. It looks good on a smartphone screen, and it looks amazing in a store window.
We saw signage and banners that rendered Pinterest pages thousands of times their usual size. Mannequins hoisted giant Instagram frames and blown-up headshots accompanied by product “posts” and testimonials.
The specific images that retailers used were also informed by social media aesthetics. Smiling faces of “real people,” not perfect models, grinned from displays and signage. Lifestyle imagery and action shots featured everyday customers (some of them brand ambassadors and influencers) having adventures and enjoying the sights – in photos that replicated the feel of shared vacation pics.
Those brand ambassadors and social influencers weren’t the only elements that found their way off the internet and into the store window. Taglines, color schemes, promotions and imagery from brand websites and social accounts were also translated into the medium of real-world display and experience.
The link between online and in-store is a critical one, made essential by the continued evolution of the experience-hungry, I-want-it-my-way shopper. But that connection isn’t always an easy one to make. It takes a keen grasp of what true omnichannel shopping is (customer-centric, friction-free, real-time movement between platforms), along with a willingness to break free of the outdated concept of digital marketing as a stand-alone discipline.
We were excited to see several brands that seemed to get it. These retailers used their windows and in-store displays as extensions of – and complements to – their online activities. Executions were specific to the physical realm, adapting the digital experience for the in-person shopper.
There was no “cut-and-paste.” Rather, these smart retailers created Shopper Moments that were consistent with the brand ethos while remaining true to the activational demands of the specific platform.
From fashion to houseware brands, retailers were celebrating street culture. Downtown style – slightly aggressive, effusive and gritty in the best way possible – showcased dresses, fragrances, accessories, school supplies, cups and saucers.
Wheat-pasted wild postings (nine to a square, just like the concert notices), classic neon, “hand-lettered” cardboard signage, propaganda-toned copy, concrete surfaces, stenciled images and single-word calls-to-action (Unite!) flaunted street cred and brought attitude into the windows and aisles.
You’ve seen them in galleries, museums and on the downtown streets; those artsy, slightly menacing, small cutouts marked by signs inducing you to “Look here.” Have you ever just walked on by? Neither have we. Why do you think they cut those viewing boxes into the temporary scaffolding around a construction site? People want (need!) to see what was going on in there. Retail designers are harnessing the power of “in there” by creating peepholes and details that compel shoppers to lean in for a closer look.
We saw several retailers using the “window-within-a-window” technique; a one-foot by one-foot square opening centerpieces an otherwise covered expanse of glass. Those who were drawn into the mystery (which would be everyone) were rewarded with views of stunning product tableaux and charming lifestyle scenes.
Retailers also utilized unexpected materials and thoughtful details to pull the customer up to the window and into the brand story. Playfulness and visual punnery provided the thrill of discovery, and sight gags became shared jokes. We saw gravity-defying display units, faux-everything and paper fashion accessories that could rival Gucci.
What all of these trends have in common is a call to action. Each encourages the shopper to connect, get involved and be a part of something.
“Let’s be friends!”
“You do you!”
The windows and displays that we saw demonstrated a growing understanding by retailers of the customer-connecting power of marketing platform integration and good old-fashioned show biz. It is no longer enough to simply tell a story. Brands must now create a timely, surprising, enveloping, empowering retail storyworld and find ways to put the shopper right at its center.