The Future of Retail Shopping in 2018

Our new executive creative director of method New York shares his thoughts on the Future of Retail Shopping conference creating a community around your products or leveraging an existing community.

Themes from the PSFK Future of Retail Conference

Coinciding with the release of their Future of Retail report, PSFK held their Future of Retail conference last week. The speakers and panelists were from a variety of backgrounds, but three key themes stood out to me from their talks.

Community amplifies brand message

Creating a community around your products, or leveraging an existing community and giving them the tools they need to feed their own fire is an area ripe with opportunity. Ron Faris heads up the SNKR team at Nike, and talked about how in the sneaker community, 15% are constantly seeking out the newest and most interesting products, and then hyping them to the other 85%. In some cases, they can even become a single point of sale, like when Nike partnered with David Chang to turn the Momofuku menu into an AR powered buyable moment. Instagram users could snap a photo and then share with their followers, resulting in a quiet spread of a “secret” shoe.

“Shopping malls should see themselves as evolution of community center,” says Melissa Gonzalez

Rachel Shechtman from Story talks about creating spaces that allow communities to come together, as Story did when they powered a shop for Mr Robot. “Store as community center is something I’m obsessed with” she said, leading into asking how we create community around spaces, how can shopping malls reinvent themselves as the evolution of the community center?

Physical supporting digital

Piers Fawkes and Scott Lachut started off the conference talking about the end of the digital-offline divide. They talked about the increase in conversion for retailers offering “experiences”, and that Target is investing $7 billion to update their stores, digital and supply chain to “work together as a smart network”. Amazon acquiring Whole Foods starts to create that integrated relationship, as does the Walmart acquisition of Jet in 2016.

“Popups are retail with commitment issues — appear quickly, disappear before people get bored” says Ross Bailey

PSFK had recently published a report called “Why Retailers Should Program Stores Like Galleries”, so this felt like a logical step to turning physical spaces into an enabler for digital purchase. Melissa Gonzalez, author of “The Pop-Up Paradigm” talked about creating a stickier relationship with their customers — and that using physical can help capture mindshare. Thinking of a store as gallery or experience certainly starts to create that opportunity to be captured and intrigued in person.

Experience as a driver for differentiation

Experience really played out as the key point for much of the day. Rachel Shechtman said “Places used to sell things, now experiences sell things” — and her company has been built to capitalize on this.

Places used to sell things, now experiences sell things, says Rachel Shechtman

I posted Rachel’s quote on Twitter, and Missy Kelley (missy_kelley) from Hello, Alfred (and also my wife) responded with a spin on that sentiment “I’d argue experiences sell experience and people are becoming less interested in ‘things’”. This is a complicated thought — how do retailers continue selling their goods if people aren’t interested in the goods themselves? Will we find retailers creating massive marketing experiences to convince people, temporarily, that they need something? Will a relationship remain with the brand?

Lee Anne Grant from Brandless touched on this with the idea of false narrative — a photo of an Italian chef on a bottle of tomato sauce. Maybe those labels were an initial, small, foray into creating experience.

What really pique my interest was this thought from Marcela Sapone, CEO and Co-Founder at Hello, Alfred:

“Think about stores as places for experiences — Fifth Ave should be like Disneyland where people go to experience new things.”

This seems to hit the balance, an interesting space for people to see, touch, and use products in order for us to believe we want to spend our money on that thing.


That thought tied up the thinking of the day — a look to the future where physical is a playground, a place to discover and explore, but maybe not the place you go to buy something. We still have a good distance to go to figure out how to bring this vision to life, and get the stores of today moving towards a customer-centered mindset. Design certainly will play a large part in this, particularly where we can influence experience with human-centered understanding, keeping those experiences from becoming yet another gimmick.

Michael Farley

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Michael Farley

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