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Brick and mortar is dead.

Retail is over.

Online shopping is now everything.

Sounds dismal, yes ? It also sounds like echoes of the past… Whenever industry or culture shifts, when change happens, it is accompanied by fear and uncertainty.

And then, premature declarations of doom.

What happens if we flip the script a bit here, look at things through a new lens ?

Nordstrom, a premiere retailer, has defied earnings and growth expectations for the last 4 years. At the same time that some of it’s biggest competitors are folding up shop, Nordstrom is building new flagship locations, and consistently beating the expectations of Wall Street. How ?

Nordstrom has twigged to the powerful concept of Experiential Retail. Going to a Nordstrom store now reveals amazing spaces, full of art, design, and engagement. Imaginative planning for continually shifting in store pop ups creates fun and change. Opportunities to eat, to gather, and to discover are scattered throughout the store. Importantly it is all curated at the highest level. Nordstrom isn’t buying cheap art, and signing deals to put chain restaurants in their store. They are commissioning notable artists to create bespoke pieces, and making sure that the sensory experiences are equally custom, and delicious. It has added up to more than just a shopping trip for shoes and slacks. It has become a canvas, a rich location for continuing the story of each and every customer. It’s not by chance that Nordstrom features show up unbidden in influencer channels. It’s cool. It’s beautiful. It makes my instagram feed look good. And by the way, the shoes and slacks ARE to die for.

Take a look at the picture above… A Nike PopUp designed for Nordstrom, it allows the consumers to make on-the-spot modifications and style changes to their Nike AF1’s. It is a compelling and fresh piece of design, but most importantly it invites people to participate. This invitation to expression is a key engagement. When consumers can add their own creativity to the mix it attracts the crowd, and makes them excited to purchase.

If you know me, you know that I talk a great deal about the “theater of everywhere”… In thinking about retail design, this becomes a key ingredient. Successful retailers are creating backdrops for their customer adventures. They are creating interactive engagements to draw people close, sparking curiosity and impulse. They are elevating the experience of shopping from simply purchasing goods, to adding a chapter to the everyday adventure. They are deploying media, environmental design, interactive engagements, and new technologies like AI and AR to create incredible spectacle alongside commercial opportunity. As we perfect the data behind experience, we will be able to design experiences that are uniquely personal, AND gather valuable metrics about engagement that reveals insights into the ROI of design. The result will be happy consumers, and a vibrant real world retail renaissance. And for the designers and craftspeople that build themed environments ? The world of opportunity just got a lot bigger.

Retail is shifting from strictly commerce to a place to gather. A place to connect. A stage for our own performances. A storydwelling for our evolving narratives.