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User-Centric Innovation in Retail Design

By Rich Lim, Digital Creative Strategist, Geometry Global Seoul

Rich Lim, Digital Creative Strategist, Geometry Global Seoul

Known for the fastest connectivity speeds and deepest mobile penetration, South Korea has one of the world’s highest rates of online shopping. So in a country where you can purchase anything you want in the comfort of your own home and receive it the same day, Korea’s most innovative brick-and-mortar have tapped into the user’s mobile-first lifestyle to make retail into a destination.

"By providing the user an endless choice of instagramable selfies, retailers created a stage for their actor to star in and broadcast their brand story"

Retail as a Stage Set

Growing Instagram usage has sparked a growth in creativity in Korean retail store design. Brands that have a sense that the user is now the star of their own social media broadcast; place a photo-zone as a key attraction for visitors, from the branded yellow school bus outside of Skinfood’s cosmetic store to the giant-size emoticons come to life in the center of a Naver Line store. The retail design has also flipped inside out, as more and more Korean retailers choose to design one of the exterior walls like the interior, with brand expressions in graphics and product displays reaching out to engage passing foot-traffic. All of this results in higher degrees of social media amplification, drawing consumers to visit the store to express their lifestyle experiences on social media.

Gentle Monster, one of the most innovative sunglasses retailers, treat their retail locations like art galleries. Each store is uniquely different, designed top to bottom with art as the first priority. With frequent changes in interior design and displays, consumers feel like they are visiting an immersive art exhibition where they are centered within the brand’s artistic expression. By providing the user an endless choice of instagramable selfies, retailers created a stage for their actor to star in and broadcast their brand story.

Retail as an Activity

Whether it is receiving a special code that unlocks at hidden room at the Gentle Monster store revealing games and free gifts or Innisfree’s cosmetic personalization kiosk themed on visiting a bank or creating a bank book and withdrawing a product, Korean retailers are ideating activities for their consumers that increases their dwell time and time to purchase by providing surprises at each touchpoint. Delight and fun motivates the user to not only visit a destination, but amplify the experience after they leave. As retailers shift more to prioritizing the experience first to enhance the user story, the purchased product becomes a plot point in the bigger brand story.

Becoming a Usage Brand

When it comes to experiential, the most innovative brand in South Korea is arguably Hyundai Card. When Ted Chung took over the failing business as CEO, he took considerable risks to put design and experience at the heart of a credit card brand. But his vision has transformed the business into the most successful usage brand in South Korea. Committed to enhancing the consumer’s lifestyle, one of Hyundai Card’s initiatives provides their customers four experiential centers (Design Library, Travel Library, Cooking Library and Music Library) that have become cultural touchstones in the market.

Experiential has become the key to unlocking a deeper relationship with the hyper-connected Korean consumer, but the user’s digital behavior has become the foundation for offline success.

Korea’s strongest retail innovation successes don’t feature a gimmicky application of a new technology, but all tap into how the consumer already use their current technology. Those brands that actively embrace UX, CX, and XD principles to engage users in their own personal brand story have developed the strongest results in generating loyalty and advocacy. The real innovation in Korean retail is how brick and mortar experiences are designed for consumer digital behavior.

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