Question of the month: How is retail design affected by a changing consumer?

The biggest change is that people are spending less time shopping in stores and more time getting product information from the Internet, the media, catalogs, friends and other sources. This doesn't mean stores will ever be obsolete, but it does suggestthat their role will continue to evolve.

What are the implications for retail design? We'll see fewer stores, but they'll be larger and more urban-focused. For example, a major apparel chain might opt for one or two centrally located flagships in a medium-sized city instead of opening stores in every mall. These flagships will evolve into more tactile, multi-sensory, all-enveloping environments, providing consumers with an experience they can't get on the Internet.

Increasingly, stores will be designed to transport the shopper from the mall or the street into a completely different world. Stores will move away from being platforms for product presentations and toward being comprehensive touch points for the consumer, multi-dimensional settings for lifestyle stories and realms of ideas.

Retailers must understand their target customers on a deeper level. Market research will play a larger role in the design process as retailers and designers learn which lifestyle triggers -- sounds, smells, food offerings and cultural references -- need to be incorporated into the selling environment to appeal to each customer segment on an emotional level.

More and more, people will gravitate to retailers that share their values and beliefs -- assuming, of course, that those stores carry the right merchandise at the right price. As factors like morals and ethics play a larger role in determining where people shop, retailers will have to become more focused on specific customer segments and more committed to a clearly defined point of view and set of beliefs.

Underlying these changes in the way people shop is one extremely significant demographic trend: the transition from Gen-X to Gen-Y. The group born after 1980, Gen-Y, is about to emerge as the country's dominant marketing force, and retailers had better learn how to speak their language. This generation already has more disposable income and more influence on their families' buying decisions than any previous generation.

Gen-Y is more optimistic, more coddled, more health-conscious, more media-savvy and, above all, more comfortable with technology than any other segment of the population. One of Gen-Y's defining characteristics is the value it places on authenticity.

To reach the Gen-Y consumer, retailers will have to stand for something real. In store design, this means we're going to move away from the flashy, themed environments of the past decade and toward a more honest and substantive approach to retail theater. The selling environments we design for this generation will have to be different, fresh, attention-getting, energetic and relevant to their lives. Every aspect of the store will have to be re-thought to reflect this group's values and interests.

Designer In Depth * Barbara Fabing

FRCH Design Worldwide

311 Elm Street

Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

(513) 241-3000

bfabing@frch.com

www.frch.com

* Number of years in the industry: 35

* Recent retail projects:

Nike concept shops; Jockey International showroom and stores; Honey-Baked Ham stores; Marriott Residence Inns; Eddie Bauer flagships & mall stores; Florida Panthers Arena store.

* Upcoming projects:

Bimbus (Italy-based children's apparel chain); Cinnabon; Cornerstone; Honey-Baked Ham; Marriott Residence Inns.

PERSONALLYSpeaking * Favorite retail store

"It's difficult to single out one store, but I can say that my favorite retail environments are full of surprises and strong on natural attitude."

* Favorite restaurant design

La Colomba, Venice: "It's a sensual combination of art and food. The environment is played out in a simple, almost gallery-like manner."

* Most improved retail image

Banana Republic: The environment retains a sense of the firm's exotic roots but has become more sophisticated through high-contrast materials, great application of scale and drama, and merchandise presentation that is focused and concise."

* Most admired industry figure

John Hoke, Nike's Global ID creative director: "John is an intuitive leader with the ability to see richness in historical reference while staying ahead of the latest trends."