Retail by definition is a local industry. So as global brands strive to bring international best practices to the retail market, they often cater to local tastes and preferences.
Especially in developing parts of Asia and India, retailers don’t have to be skittish about brand heritage. It’s akin to technology: Just as developing countries skipped traditional wired technology for more sophisticated wireless devices, their retail environment is free of tired store concepts and deep-rooted customer bases. In these markets, established retailers can reinvent themselves without fear of alienating consumers, says Ted Jacobs of Gensler San Francisco.
In the face of stiff competition and a wavering economy, 40 percent of retailers expect emerging markets to fuel their primary growth through 2013. India, despite slowing consumer demand, ranks as the most attractive market for international expansion, according to A.T. Kearney’s 2009 retail study. No wonder that a wave of new X-Cite consumer electronics stores — designed by Gensler — are underway.
Meanwhile, the Middle East offers a testing ground for new retail approaches, says Gensler London’s Jon Tollit. The region’s retailers are entrepreneurial, willing to break from convention to attract new customers.
From San Francisco, Gensler’s Barry Bourbon says economic strife has thinned the ranks of viable retailers around the Pacific Rim, but this opens opportunities for financially sound companies to retool stores or launch new concepts. “Now is the time to overtake the competition,” he says. That said, Asian retail aspirations often exceed Western standards for mass-market outlets, such as fast food restaurants and toy stores. In the Far East, the customer experience is as important as the product.
Demand for Western brands is mushrooming in the Middle East. Dean & DeLuca, the quintessential New York retailer, is one brand testing the growing luxury retail market. Franchisee M.H. Alshaya retained Gensler to leverage the existing brand and develop a new concept for a large, food-hall store. “The luxury customer in the Middle East has much higher expectations than U.S. luxury customers,” says Gensler’s Michael Bodziner. “This impacts every aspect of store design and customer service; fixtures and finishes are at the high end.”
Inspired by the spare aesthetic of Dean & DeLuca’s New York flagship store, Gensler designers studied the characteristics of European food markets and combined the two approaches. To lend authenticity to new stores in Dubai and Kuwait, team members visited those countries to sample local culture and observe consumer habits.
Field research by Gensler’s retail team showed that the rise of the shopping mall in the Gulf is more than a “build it and they will come” phenomenon. In all but Dubai, it reflects a lack of public settings for social interaction and entertainment. Shopping is the social activity par excellence in the region, and entire families treat the activity as an outing.
Baroue, a new store for kids, makes the most of this fact. Located in one of Kuwait’s premier shopping malls (for which Gensler is now designing a major expansion), Baroue’s flagship store goes out of its way to appeal to families. “Children head for Baroue because they want to play,” says Tollit, Gensler’s retail practice leader in the Middle East.
An established Kuwaiti company approached Gensler to reposition its consumer electronics brand and create a store that transforms mere shopping into entertainment. Rather than follow cut-and-dried examples, Gensler set out to design a place that engages sophisticated and youthful consumers, whose references are interactive and whose interests are stoked by product expertise.
The result is X-Cite. The interactive, flexible stores are organized into activity zones, each shaped by a product category and its likely customers. If a teenager walks in with mom and dad, they each naturally gravitate to their own interests. “Demystifying technology is a major goal,” says Gensler London’s Owain Roberts. “X-Cite wants to share the knowledge and empower its customers.”
With big plans to roll out a new store design as it expands throughout China, India and the Pacific Rim, Lenovo — the world’s fourth largest personal computer manufacturer — partnered with Gensler to develop a flexible prototype. Employing an existing brand platform and color palette, Gensler created a nimble kit-of-parts design that balances functionality and aesthetics, adapts easily to new markets and powerfully represents the Lenovo brand.
Gensler first produced a design that was market-tested in Shanghai, Beijing and Bangalore. One key goal: to simplify the system, making it easy for Lenovo’s thousands of independent-minded franchisees to embrace. “The design is seamless from location to location,” says Gensler’s Tom Bittner. “And it is flexible enough to accommodate the changes owners will make to meet local demands.”
India, the Middle East, Russia, China and other Pacific Rim countries are laboratories for new retail concepts that make shopping an outlet for social interaction and entertainment.
The Middle East is particularly attractive to U.S. and European retailers, says Roberts. These are growth markets, where established Western brands tend to import their product — and their presentation — with relatively few modifications. “There’s validity to that — customers in the region often want the identical experience that they found in London, New York, or Paris.” Still, Roberts adds, “Middle East retailers have a valid point — local preferences matter. That’s their competitive advantage.”
Vernon Mays—Gensler Firmwide Communications
Baroue, Marcus Peel: pages 1, 4
X-Cite, Project Team: pages 2, 5
Dean & DeLuca, Gary Miller: page 3
Lenovo, Project Team: page 6:
Alghanim Electronics, Marcus Peel: page 7
*For detailed information, please roll over imagery on individual story pages.
Gensler Retail Contacts
Barry Bourbon (Gensler—San Francisco): email@example.com
Jon Tollit (Gensler—London): firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Bodziner (Gensler—San Francisco): email@example.com
Owain Roberts (Gensler—London): firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Bittner (Gensler—New York): email@example.com
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