Wellness in Fashion Retail Spaces: Introducing the Concept of Anti-Retail

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

Retail stores are changing and we're beginning to rethink the meaning of physical retail. As consumers become more conscious to the issues of sustainability and wellbeing, we are set to see the concept of wellness integrated into the development and design of fashion retail spaces.

The problem with now

Have you ever entered a store flustered from the lack of air conditioning or fought through swathes of clothes and customers in search of that one coveted item? It doesn't exactly sound like the most inviting of retail experiences does it? This perhaps explains why sometimes we don't want to fight with physical retail spaces and instead seek the calm of digital retail to facilitate fashion shopping on our own terms, in our own time and in the right frame of mind.

However, physical retail isn't going to be left behind as one of those leading the shift is Lord Norman Foster of Foster + Partners whose work with Gabriela Hearst sought to rethink the fashion retail flagship. At the launch of her London flagship store in September 2019 Hearst, in partnership with Foster, sought to create a fashion retail space which rather than being stuffed to the brim with product, provides a space for consumers to think, to enjoy and a space to just 'be'.

“Serenity”, rather than “sales”, is the other S-word that comes up repeatedly in Hearst and Foster’s hour-long discourse. “I like this idea of anti-retail,” says Hearst. “Things that don’t scream at you are important. Everybody gets so bombarded in their daily life, it was essential for me to convey the idea of coming in, taking a seat, just chilling out for a second.” “You need calm,” Vogue, 2019

Defining Anti-Retail

Therefore, if I were to ascribe a definition... the concept of anti-retail depicts retail spaces which support and enhance consumer wellbeing. Where the emphasis is on calm atmospherics, which can support emotionally positive retail experiences and ultimately lead to better consumer purchase decision-making. We all know that if you are in the right frame of mind you are going to make better decisions and this applies to retail purchasing too.  

So what can we learn from Hearst and Foster's approach?

If we want to see physical retail thrive then we need to rethink physical retail spaces. It is not just about the customer experience of transacting. We need to reimagine retail spaces as a place for calm, as a space to be savoured and one that is enhancing to our daily lives rather than adding extra stress. This is in stark contrast to the atmospherics we now 'endure' - the fluorescent lights, shiny floors, cramped spaces where racks are positioned so densely it's like trying to find your way out of Ikea on a bad day. Admittedly, Hearst's perspective is high-end but surely our high street retailers could take note? It's not like everyone is enjoying an abundance of footfall in physical fashion retailing at the moment.

This isn't a one-off trend

I also experienced more evidence of this while travelling and I was intrigued by shopping malls across Asia. Many of which are situated within the most densely populated cities of the world and still they offer spaces to work and even read. I gazed on students working furiously from their laptop as a gentleman sat adjacent to them reading his daily newspaper. So while we are seeing emergences of this train of thought come through in some continents, here in the UK there is still some way to go in making retail environments more healthy and inviting for fashion shoppers.

My own research

Having done some of my own research in the area of omnichannel retailing and as a by-product of that research I reached some interesting initial findings. I have found that consumers face a number of decision-making factors when considering whether or not to visit the physical retail environment. Some of these reasons I uncovered included atmospherics such as lighting, fitting rooms, temperature, crowdedness and also consumer feelings and experiences of fatigue and overwhelm. Consumers now want a fashion retail experience and space which they can enjoy and relax in. My view is that retail, in essence, has the potential to be a mood adjuster. If the right physical setting is created it can relax consumers and make them feel positive and happy. In turn, this creates an optimum environment and state of mind for fashion purchase decision-making. High street retailers - take note... we might have just found one mitigator for the burgeoning retail crisis that we face today.

Dr Sam Lynch - is a researcher in consumer decision-making and omnichannel fashion retail. You can find out more by visiting the drsamlynch.co.uk homepage or reach out via twitter @drsamlynch

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