"If you could be any store in the world, what store would you be?"
It's the first questions I ask first time clients when I meet them. Sounds like a silly almost juvenile type of question, right? But the response to this question loads me with so much information about a person's personal design sensibilities. Just the wordIKEAevokes immediate visual and sensory reaction from any person -- the light birch color, clean lines, smell of cinnamon baked goods, bright light.
But in the past few years or so things have shifted, it takes a person longer to respond to that question without being cynical and saying "Amazon". But that too is very telling. Our time has become a valuable commodity and between the hussle of very full and active family lives, and increasingly harder to balance work schedule -- going out shopping is not much fun anymore, where is in the past it was considered therapy. To me it feels like going into a teenagers room wanting to pick up after them.
Yes the economy was hit hard and we are in the odd in-between years of trying to marry good UX online with somewhat of a decent similar experience in brick and mortar storefronts - hey evenAmazonis opening one! There is value for people to go out and shop, bump into friends, walk around and engage in different environments, while they consume more useless products. We humans need to have a purpose and meaning even if it's a simple one of getting a bar of soap. Most of us don't have a nice park or open space around us, the streets and shopping plazas become these communal arenas.
Yet we are greeted with visual cacophony, most of it following "design rules" that pre-date the immediate click-of-the-button-swipe-of the-fingerprint era -- Loud music, harsh smells, disorienting product placements, bright lights, low or no-inventory that can easily be found online, a tired salesperson, long lines to pay or return items. Most of these stores are run down, people who work there are annoyed and tired because of entitled "let's just scan this items" consumers. The whole shopping experience has been reduced to that moment of email confirmation of "your item is on it's way".
It's no secret these retailers are struggling, closing down stores leaving gaping holes in shopping malls, street plazas, and city centers. Which in turn leave us with almost ghost like places. Retailers have yet to make the adjustment to this new world of shopping experience, it's almost like they are at a loss and have given up completely. Like all of us in these odd and fickle economic times they too need to rethink cost-per-sqft or ROI -- yet we humans are not only the sum of that. And our reaction to the lack of seeing us as human in need of contact, efficient, pleasant places to be and interact in is that of that going online.
Smaller more humanly accessible stores, where one can see the end of it, where there is some inkling experience that makes us pause, smile and give us a meaningful break in our day will go a long way in improving retailer's bottom line and user experience. I want to go back in time to the feeling of excitement I had at the end of the 90's start of 2000's when I pounded the streets of downtown trying to find the next big WOW moment that was supplied by exciting store designs that even the biggest names in architecture at the time were not ashamed to be part of.
We all lose when a layer of our needs is taken away, and another human factor is lost into the efficient sterile cyber zone.