What – quite literally – is ‘in store’ for the future of brick-and-mortar retail? A question on everyone’s minds of late, with the trillion-dollar Amazon's of the world capturing greater market share by the minute.
With traditional retailers in a feverish conquest of experimental and experiential alternatives to lure shoppers away from their computer screens and into physical stores, how does one construct a unique environment in which the world would be remiss without experiencing firsthand?
Ironically, perhaps the most avant-garde of such examples existed long before household computers, the Internet, cell phones and decades prior to ‘e-commerce’ becoming a staple term in contemporary shopper’s daily lexicons.
In 1969, Italian architect Ugo la Pietra opened the “Altre Cose” (‘Other Things’) boutique in the heart of Milan. The store was the first of its kind, a ‘hybrid type’ atmosphere that offered consumers an opportunity to purchase goods in an innovative environment that was connected to Milan’s first disco, Bang Bang. The social and commercial spaces existed in symbiosis, functioning as both a state-of-the-art retail environment, above, and a late night hangout, on the lower level.
The unique interior was designed thoughtfully with the objective that it would evolve with time, not succumbing to fleeting trends or ‘of the moment’ fashions. The sales floor of the commercial space was primarily free of product, with clothing and accessories exhibited in acrylic cylinders that were suspended from the ceiling and could be seen from below.
The space was augmented with mirrors, while the reflections and transparencies created by the tubular containers allowed the environment to evolve throughout the course of the day. If a client wished to retrieve a garment, they could press a button and lower an individual cylinder, changing the volumetric of the space while making the simple act of shopping a unique, participatory experience.
Perhaps contemporary retailers should take a moment and look forward to the past for inspiration on how to solve the retail apocalypse currently graving the industry.