Stores Put On a Facade

Discussion
Nov 02, 2006

By George Anderson


Retailers don’t want consumers window-shopping anymore. They want them inside buying merchandise, and so the days of the wide-open plate-glass window storefronts appear as though they may be coming to an end.


The desire to get consumers to buy is behind a new wave in storefront design with merchants putting up facades that look as though they are townhouses, beach shacks, cottages and other structures that draw attention but reduce the view of what’s inside.


In some cases, the lack of visibility proves problematic for consumers. Many find themselves walking into stores they are not familiar with only to find it is intended for another consumer.


Marc Caudill, 50 years of age and a conservative dresser, is an example. He recently found himself outside a Ruehl at a mall in Virginia with no real clue what the store was from the outside façade. A store employee told him Ruehl was for college students and pointed him to the door.


“The problem,” Mr. Caudill told The New York Times, “is that you really had to guess what it was until you got in.”


While there is no doubt that Mr. Caudill’s experience is not unique, retailers say the new facades help differentiate their stores from those going the traditional glass-pane window route.


Michele Martin, the head women’s clothing designer at Martin & Osa, said the standard storefront “is too transparent, too naked. It’s just a sea of clothing.”


Paco Underhill, founder, CEO and president of Envirosell and author of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping and Call of the Mall: The Geography of Shopping, said the new storefronts are “just like that velvet rope in front of the nightclub. It makes people even more anxious to go inside and look.”


For every Marc Caudill, say executives, there are many others who walk into a store to find out what’s inside and stay to buy merchandise.


Alessandra Conti, 16, and Michelle Palotta, 17, found themselves outside a Ruehl just as Mr. Caudill had.


“We said, ‘Oh, what is this?’ ” said Ms. Conti. “And so we had to go in.”


“It has this cool apartment vibe,” said Ms. Palotta. “Instead of being in Bergen County in the middle of New Jersey, we are on a street in New York, and that is where we want to be anyway – living in New York City.”


Discussion Questions: What are your thoughts on the design trend that creates storefronts that look as though they are other structures, such as townhouses
or beach shacks? Do you see one type, the traditional glass-pane or the new reduced visibility storefronts, as being superior to the other?

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9 Comments on "Stores Put On a Facade"


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William Passodelis
Guest
15 years 6 months ago
This is a tricky conundrum. I believe this is demographic targeting. Younger people who may have more time may be happier with a “closed” storefront and may want to have to go inside to discover what is found within. This also plays to the exclusivity of the store — word of mouth has impacted stores aimed at young (24 and less) shoppers and will work well for these type of establishments — also the mall is very different than a sidewalk and more and more, there are NO sidewalks to shop on except in really large cities. The presence or lack of large plate glass will not matter to the younger demographic and may be a plus because they will go where their age cohorts are shopping in that ever present effort, attempt, or necessity, to be “cool” or “in.” For other shoppers — older groups and busy groups — the ability to see what’s offered may bring people in to see the taste, style and ambiance of the store, THEN THE MERCHANDISE — depending… Read more »
Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
15 years 6 months ago

My personal rule of thumb is that if I do not already have a relationship with the store I want to be able to clearly see inside through the windows. I want to see a sample of the merchandise and how the merchandise is displayed, I want to see what the sales help and customers look like. The latter is a safety issue as well as a buying one.

j paresi
Guest
j paresi
15 years 6 months ago
I believe that this ‘trend’ is the result of the continuing death-grip that bean counters have been given in retail industries as of late. Where is the backlash of store and retail designers who have to build enticing environments to stimulate sales and keep people coming back? I see no honest reason (except cost) for eliminating them, solely because most humans tend to be attracted to activity and visual stimulation. The only way I see this working is if a retailer has a plan to visually ‘activate’ a primary facade with something else of interest, say a video wall or enticing, well-lit graphic panels; then this idea may have some legs. However, knowing the rather Spartan character of most roll-out programs, particularly as they age, I am not certain that this would be a favored design direction. More to the point: does anyone really want to walk along a corridor or streetscape with multitudes of blank facades with only punctured openings? Yes, we do that at big box centers, but we certainly don’t linger there… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 6 months ago

I wish someone would explain this to automobile dealers. I can fondly remember when you could go into a dealer showroom and look at and sit in examples of their cars. No more! It seams that you now have to walk all over a big lot, in the heat or weather and send your minder to get a key every time you see something you might be interested in actually sitting in. I hope all real retailers continue to make their experience a time valued by the consumer. I would hope that every hard line retailer will go to a top flight restaurant once a month just to be reminded what service is all about. A retailers job is to entertain the consumer. To make the consumers experience memorable. To make the consumer understand the unique value proposition the retailer provides. Don’t look to the auto industry for any inspiration.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

Given that I am a fairly atypical shopper, I don’t think I would set foot in the door of a store whose contents were an unknown quantity. At least with a big window display I can get a feel for the type of merchandise, style and price. Enough to either grab or lose my interest and choose whether or not I want to know more.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

It all depends on the type of store and the desired customer. Ever been in a Hollister? Works for them. Will 50 year old guys wander in there? Not likely unless they’re picking up the tab for their kids, but I think that’s the point.

Mark Hunter
Guest
Mark Hunter
15 years 6 months ago

Eyeballs don’t count, only sales count! I can have the best display that attracts plenty of mall attention but if it doesn’t ultimately bring people into the store it has no purpose. Consumer tastes are so wide and varied that it is quite difficult to create a window display that appeals to everyone. If you create a display or facade that compels the consumer into the store then you have the opportunity to expose them to far more items than an exterior display could ever do. It’s a great strategy and is really no different than a website with a homepage that compels you to click deeper into the site.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 6 months ago

It’s hard to argue with success. And there are many alternate paths to success. Most restaurants have menus with printed prices. Some restaurants require the servers to verbally list the “specials” without giving the prices. Some popular bars have high-traffic locations and some have obscure locations. No retailer needs to appeal to everyone. In fact, if you try for universal appeal, you’ll probably appeal to no one.

Jay Kim
Guest
Jay Kim
15 years 6 months ago

While the closed store front does have a “velvet rope” appeal, this is only if a few select stores use the tactic. Can you imagine shopping in a mall that was composed of a fortress of walls?

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