Designing with Data: Keeping Retailers Ahead of the Trends


Whether a retail location, office building, hotel or healthcare environment, designing to support client objectives requires bringing to bear as much relevant information as possible. At Dyer Brown our approach, regardless of typology, emphasizes pre-design investigation: combining market research and surveys with collaborative stakeholder visioning sessions produces critical data that will inform the design process. For physical retail locations, data and analysis are indispensable for navigating a rapidly evolving and ever-changing marketplace.

Success for a new store location depends on a range of factors. Specific data can help define a project’s program and inform stakeholders about the kind of in-person experiences that customers are looking for, and what will bring them back as repeat customers to create brand loyalists. Drawing on data analysis, design can help connect the brand to the core values and beliefs among target demographics. Examples of this approach can be as simple as what materials are used on the project, such as employing natural wood finishes to evoke environmental stewardship.

The ability to gather information from mobile app sales, social media and points of sale may be especially helpful for understanding a brand’s relationship to the customer, and the Gen Z cohort more specifically. As digital natives, they largely permit retailers to collect data across multiple channels of interaction, painting a detailed picture of who they are and how the brand communicates to them effectively, which designers can leverage to enhance project outcomes.

Big Box Lessons

One way of understanding this topic is to evaluate how major retailers respond to changes in aggregate consumer habits. Since its inception, Walmart’s brand has been based on providing the most accessible price points on all products, with the tradeoff being a lower quality of service. In the current economic space, the brand’s popularity has grown markedly, a trend that brought with it customer demand for additional on-site services.


Nudged by an evolving customer base and undeniable data sets, the company responded with new offerings and a focus on higher quality of service – an unexpected evolution. Other retailers can collaborate with design consultants to follow this example, analyzing the data to optimize space usage and develop innovative store and display concepts.

These data sets are much larger than in the past, when mail order companies might determine where to build a physical location based on where catalog recipients and frequent buyers are concentrated geographically. These days consumers are increasingly digitally reliant, resulting in basically unlimited data for studying their habits and preferences. At the same time, these platforms also directly influence consumer perceptions.

Digital Influence(r)s

Retailers have become more savvy in recent years about aligning the in-person store experience with online inventory. Mindful customers will make a journey to a location for a specific item viewed on the website, and might leave with a negative impression of their in-person experience if the product is not found. On a more holistic level, it’s becoming more important for brand growth to design physical venues in ways that align with the online experience of the brand. In a growing number of instances, the customer may not have visited the website at all, instead developing brand awareness through social media.

It’s not just about avoiding potential pitfalls. The customer who goes to shop in-person after learning about a product or venue online represents an opportunity that strategic design can capitalize on by developing in-store experiences. This informed customer allows the retailer to tap into new and lucrative customer bases that may have been unreachable before.

For example, why do retailers working to enhance brand recognition rely on influencers from Instagram, TikTok and other platforms for promotion and marketing? One reason is that their followers often make special trips to a location just to replicate the store experience that the influencer shared in photos or video.

As an example, for the grand opening of their new flagship, Dick’s House of Sport in Boston recently partnered with Instagram’s @nickimarieinc, who shared video with her over 800,000 followers of trying out the batting simulator, rock climbing wall and other interactive installations. Many of those who will stop in to try the experience for themselves will be younger parents with kids in tow, opening up the possibility of creating a new generation of Dick’s devotees.

In my own work with Cabela’s in Anchorage, Alaska, we were able to create a cost-effective and replicable “Instagram-able moments” area with a logo placed on the floor, where influencers and others would stand and snap a picture of their own feet. This modest we-were-there experience has been re-created and shared many times over on various social channels.

In this way, store design borrows from the tested advertising strategy of positioning a product as an aspect of a desired identity, like Jeep commercials that connect with viewers who see themselves as rugged outdoorsy types. The message is, “buy a Jeep and you’ll be this person, having this experience.” In our retail analog, the customer goes to the store to actually have that particular experience and maybe share it on social media, and it makes them feel connected to that online culture. They may even hope that sharing video of their experience will make others envious – and they may be right.

One caution about this approach is that with the digital age comes reduced attention spans – once the customer has stood on the logo or climbed the rock wall and posted it to their account, they are unlikely to come back for that experience again. Hungry for the next novelty, many will return to that venue only if there is something new to experience. This challenges retailers to evolve and adapt to customers who are always hungry for the latest thing.

Data-Enabled Design Fundamentals

As the conventional wisdom suggests, the only consistent factor is change. Consumer habits and interests seemingly turn on a dime, making today’s data look entirely different from last week’s. In terms of store design the best way to deal with this is to integrate strategies for flexibility and adaptability. Retail evolution is inevitable and relentless – successful retailers adapt nimbly to ever-changing customer and trends.

Here are a few more ways design retail can and should be data-driven:

  • Support sales staff goals. The more service-oriented the brand, the more the data should be leveraged to undergird sales goals. Locate and display products prominently and in ways that generate positive customer-employee interaction. Temporary installation of a dedicated booth or stand can create interest while providing a visible destination for those in the know.
  • Design for brand culture. Data can provide a window to core values and beliefs among target demographics, and design can connect those to the brand. Wood, stone and metal finishes evoke environmental sustainability – an increasingly important value for many – as do graphics depicting figurative images from nature. Combined with targeted messaging like a sustainability pledge, this design strategy can establish the brand as having a “higher purpose.”
  • Geographic strategy. Focused SKUs that are most relevant for a given region, because even a major retail chain must cater to their patronage. That data can help the design team to support this strategy and to tackle tricky challenges — like a store in Florida that is frequented by tourists and locals alike and needs both groups to hit targets for sales and growth.

As Senior Architect with Dyer Brown & Associates, Paul Koch, AIA brings to the firm’s leadership roster significant experience working for major retailers, like Cabela’s and J.Jill, and a portfolio that spans the North American continent. His career has included creating world-class customer experiences and memorable stores, giving him unique insights into the needs of the owners and brand managers, from site selection to storefront concepts and technical specialties such as incorporating massive aquarium displays in destination stores. 


Tracking trends, projects, and products.



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