• Maaike van Rooden

The future of retail: explore possibilities

Maaike van Rooden was interviewed by FX Magazine, the essential magazine for the contract interior design industry, about her views on the future of retail design. She explains how a ‘skeleton and skin’ design enables real world retailers to keep refreshing

the customer experience.


Retail is a part of everyone’s lives. As retail designers, it is our job to make shopping as engaging, convenient and meaningful as possible. At SVT we believe retail is therefore not so much about shops and shopping centres, but more about the one-to-one relationships between companies and real people. Retail design is not only about how it looks and works, but also about intangible

interactions and experiences.

FX Magazine March 2019

Ecommerce and globalisation are changing consumer behaviour, putting tremendous pressure on traditional retailers. But if retail has to reinvent itself, designers are the ones to drive innovation. The growing demand for ease of purchase means that customers expect to come to a decision faster. Retail design can help with efficient and clear layout and communication, enabling consumers to recognise the service concept quickly and find what they are looking for during their omnichannel journey. Physical retail can learn from ecommerce, where heatmaps, A/B tests and continuous improvement are the standard. Ecommerce thrives on our desire for convenience, and so uses technology and client data to evaluate the results of innovations. Physical stores too, can be optimised continuously towards customer-centric experiences and design. As well as store layout and product range, the choice of store location becomes important, based on factors such as local traffic.


Amazon 4-star, a new physical store where all products are rated four stars and above on Amazon.com, is a great example of smart retail. The assortment of goods in these stores is purely based on client data gained from Amazon.com: what customers are looking for, what is trending, and client reviews and ratings. Collections are clearly segmented, for example, ‘books to read once in a lifetime’ and customer reviews are positioned at shelf level to aid decision-making. The benefits of online shopping, but with instant fulfilment: you don’t have to wait for delivery.

Retail must create great experiences: to attract, surprise and engage customers every time.

People’s busy lives keep them in an always-on mode, hungry for external impulses and entertainment to keep themselves occupied. We believe that here lies a big opportunity – or actually more of a task – for retailers. Retail must create great experiences: to attract, surprise and engage customers every time. To do so, retail concepts must be flexible so that retailers can change and renew store elements and create different dynamics. We call this the ‘skeleton and skin’ principle: in our view a contemporary retail store should contain a rather basic, flexible system (the skeleton), enriched with inspirational elements (the skin) that can be easily changed.


In our whitepaper, Towards Explorative Spaces, Alexander Grit, Maaike de Jong and I introduced a new sort of retail space: these have multidimensional retail functions and are meeting points for kindred spirits, leading to unexpected and memorable encounters. Blurring the boundaries of retail is a current, well-known concept, but this is just the beginning.


The Royal Dutch Touring Club (ANWB) is one of the largest brands in the Netherlands supporting all modes of travel. It wanted to expand by attracting younger consumers. While its stores are on the periphery of cities or in smaller towns, we developed a new, multidimensional store concept in the centre of Utrecht, close to the boutiques, bars and cafes popular among the target group. In addition to ANWB’s regular store offering – its clothing, and mobility and travel services – we designed the ANWB Café and new services such as themed workshops and in-store digital experiences. The workshops have been fully booked since the store opening, and the cafe is popular for meeting, working and relaxing.

In addition to convenience and experience, brand personality and authenticity is key to standing out in the competitive retail market. Brand stories should be true and unique, and it is essential that they will resonate with your target group. Needs and desires may diff er with each sort of purchase and type of retailer, and underlying standards and values vary from generation to generation. The honesty of brands, sustainability and being part of society is particularly important to Millennials and Gen Z. They identify themselves with brands that comply with these

values – often local and craft companies.

Retail designers unravel this retail complexity, analyse functions and design each element individually, yet consistently and coherently.

Retail has become complex. The retail formula is the cumulative effect of all customer touchpoints; more and more, designers must be able to unravel this complexity, analyse functions and design each element individually, yet consistently and coherently, to create a strong, recognisable brand. So at SVT we work in multidisciplinary teams and in close cooperation with our client to perfectly understand their brand, business and processes. Retail designers need to understand their field of expertise in depth, and at the same time able to communicate with other disciplines. They need the ability to act as a sparring partner for the retailer and to explain why certain design decisions will lead to success, ROI and customer happiness. Not an easy task, but in my and my colleagues’ opinions, the best job there is. Every day we strive to improve how people shop and spend their time.

Read the full feature in FX magazine here and find out the considerations of SVT and other leading design consultants, specialising in retail, on how creative concepts will develop in the future. Plus a summary of the current retail scene and its evolution in the face of online shopping, a look at new stores for Nike in LA, Nike Live, for Adidas in Boston and Versace in Miami.