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Taking Inspiration from Retail Design for Your Event Space


Meetings and events weren’t the only vertical hit hard by the pandemic. For years, the retail industry has faced challenges as traffic has shifted away from traditional malls. And COVID accelerated the impact, with consumers turning to online channels while lockdowns were in place or cutting back on spending due to uncertainty.

But just like hybrid events and meetings, the retail industry has found having an online presence and a physical store go hand-in-hand. In addition, as shopping has become more personalized, the retail industry has been reinventing the in-store experience, which can serve as a source of inspiration for event design.

From elevating the in-person experience to integrating innovative technology and more, look to these five retail design trends to inspire your event design:

1.   Elevated in-person experiences

According to recent retail studies, 76 percent of U.S. consumers shop online, and it is predicted that e-commerce sales could nearly double by 2024.

But although consumers have fully embraced online shopping, nearly half of post-2020 shoppers surveyed prefer in-person retail experiences. And if a retailer gives them a positive experience or even a memory to walk away with, the likelihood of those shoppers returning increases to 90 percent.

If we learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s that few things are more important than connecting as humans – and our event designs should deliver a unique and high-quality experience that can’t be replicated by participating online.

In some cases, elevating the in-person experience can be used to create a stronger sense of community, like designing collaborative spaces for attendees to connect with each another.

In other instances, up-leveling the experience comes from one-on-one (and highly personalized) VIP experiences for select event attendees.

It can also be about incorporating unique design elements or entertainment that provides a must-attend in-person feel.

Whatever the case, finding a way to elevate the overall event experience that resonates with your target audience builds loyalty and deepens relationships among attendees — and often increases the likelihood of future event participation too.

2.   Minimalist and comfortable design

Post-COVID retail environments mimic minimalist interior design trends and often evoke a safe-at-home feeling. With online shopping offering every option and variety delivered to the doorstep, retail shelves are no longer packed with inventory. Instead, the stores keep it clean and focus on exclusive or limited items.

Create a sense of sophistication by embracing the minimalist design trend at events. Clean event design also minimizes touchpoints that need frequent cleaning, allows attendees to socially distance themselves if desired, and creates an overall safer experience to encourage a more enjoyable event experience.

Event organizers can also take a page from retail floor plans and wayfinding uses. For example, strategically placed displays and signage throughout the store allow shoppers to navigate the in-person experience on their own – something planners can use at events to assist with wayfinding and traffic flow.

3.  Interactive technology integration

The introduction of social distancing during the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital tools to reduce the need for physical interaction in retail environments.

For instance, mobile point of sales and scannable QR codes to buy merchandise offer a convenient way to shop. Some stores have taken it further and integrated interactive technology to enhance the experience. For example, H&M has a mirror that takes selfies through voice commands. Other retailers like Warby Parker, IKEA, and Target have a “try with AR” capability that allows users to preview how products look and fit simply by using their smartphone’s camera to project a virtual model of the product in the context of their home space.

From scannable QR codes to streamline the check-in process to metaverse-like environments that provide additional ways for attendees to connect before, during, and after an event, use interactive technology to enhance event attendees’ experiences.

4.   Pop-up popularity

Pop-up stores aren’t a new idea. But because they generate excitement and a sense of urgency, they’re increasingly popular with millennials to shop and share on social. And they’re also a way for retailers to experiment with new types of products to see how well their products appeal to that community.

Events can adopt the popularity of the pop-up mindset by adding unexpected elements to their event schedule, such as a surprise speaker.

Pop-ups also generally have a visually appealing aesthetic, primarily designed for taking selfies and social media sharing. With this growing trend, incorporate event design locations that are ideal for Instagram selfies and TikTok videos. These can include eye-catching installations, unique flooring, snap-worthy wall backdrops, or signs with catchy phrases. Pop-up-inspired elements encourage attendees to post and share their event experiences on social media.

Event Photo Credit: NYFF Events

5.   Align with sustainability initiatives

According to an IBM report, purpose-driven shoppers represent 44 percent of all consumers. In addition, predictions by Forrester indicate that in 2022, more than 50 percent of adults around the world will regularly purchase from brands that align with their personal values.

The retail industry has discovered the power of aligning consumers’ values to the stores they shop from. From fair trade companies and locally made goods to eco-friendly businesses, shoppers frequently seek out and prefer products that support their values.

And one of the most prevalent values is sustainability which has long been a hot-button event industry issue.

Event organizers should prioritize environmentally-friendly business practices – like using recycled packaging, reducing event waste, integrating low-carbon initiatives, and working with suppliers who follow sustainable practices – and proactively communicate these efforts to customers.

These retail-inspired trends are just a few ways organizers can get inspired with their event design. For more ideas, check out what can be learned from the office industry.

And remember, no matter where you’re at in the design process, the Prismm team is here to help. Try our virtual tour technology and floorplan design tools to make planning and selling events easier!

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