April 22, 2013 09:30 ET

Hotspots of the Past Hint at the Future of Retail Design, Bona Says

CBX Executive Highlights Role of Shopper Engagement During Speech at Global Shop 2013

CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwired - Apr 22, 2013) - Futuristic gizmos and fast-paced tech trends loom large in the strategic thinking of retail leaders today. But according to Joseph Bona, President of Branded Environments at brand agency and retail design consultancy CBX, key insights for competitive store design over the next few years might just come from some unexpected sources -- including the traditional gathering spots of the past.

"Even in this digital age, like-minded people still enjoy being together amid a sense of community in tried-and-true gathering places like football stadiums, churches, concert halls and cafes," Bona said during an April 18 presentation at Global Shop, the annual retail design and shopper marketing show. "The real opportunity for retailers moving forward is to leverage their stores in ways that lead to meaningful social engagements in just the same way. The look and feel of the store should encourage shoppers to linger, interact with one another and, ultimately, form a strong identification with the brand."

It is no accident that Lululemon's highly profitable stores happen to call to mind the yoga lofts of New York or San Francisco, Bona told the audience at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center. "With its in-store yoga classes, Lululemon has done a really good job of making connections to its community of like-minded shoppers, and the company has skillfully enlisted both technology and store design to complement this effort," the veteran store designer said. "There's a lot of opportunity for other retailers to make the in-store experience richer by doing the same. After all, this is precisely what can motivate someone to get in the car and make that trip to the mall."

The rise of free shipping, mobile retail, "show-rooming" and the like means that stores are now just one of many different purchase options, Bona added, but this does not mean technology should be considered a death knell for brick and mortar. "To be sure, the pressure is on for stores to be more meaningful and experiential," he said. "But the digital sphere has actually enhanced brick-and-mortar operations, because it has allowed retailers to connect with consumers in ways they never could before. This translates into incremental purchases, long-term loyalty-building opportunities and other benefits."

Indeed, Macy's and other chains are now using brick-and-mortar assets as shipping and distribution centers for online orders, in-store pickups and same-day delivery, he noted. "Such channel-neutral strategies, sometimes dubbed 'omni-channel retail,' are empowering retail companies to react more nimbly to the marketplace," Bona said. "Technology is helping retailers to become dramatically more efficient."

These developments mean that cohesive brands and uniform customer experiences are more important than ever -- regardless of whether the channel is in cyberspace or a real-world mall, Bona said. "The imagery, colors and graphics associated with the brand -- the whole sensory experience, with sights, sounds, fonts, lighting, you name it -- should be an integral part of each channel," he advised. "Today, everything is retail. A shopper could scan a QR code in a print ad and, literally, be a click away from buying that item with her phone. The emotional resonance always counts."

During the Global Shop presentation, Bona showed images of successful gathering places that evoke various emotional responses in consumers -- from magnificent cathedrals, to inviting theaters, to historic sports stadiums, to sumptuous stores. "People still like emotion," he noted. "They still want to connect in a social way. Branding and store design can and should reflect this reality."

Bona gave a similar presentation earlier this month in Tucson, Ariz., during the Global Retailing Conference of the University of Arizona's Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing. The annual conference brings together CEOs, retail technologists, brand strategists and other thought leaders for discussions on winning strategies, retail trends and the global outlook.

About CBX
CBX is a brand agency specializing in corporate identity, consumer branding and retail. The company, with its current staff of 120, was founded in 2003 and has a client base that includes Del Monte, General Mills, Kimberly-Clark, A&P, Pathmark, Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Lord & Taylor, Wawa, Sunoco, and PetroChina. In addition to its New York City headquarters, CBX has an office in Minneapolis, and through the CBX Worldwide Partnership, operating offices around the globe. The firm was ranked #282 in the Advertising & Marketing industry for the 2011 Inc. 500/5000 list of fastest growing private companies.