Well, after a prolonged hiatus, I'm back. Let's get down to the task at hand: talking about Retail. Note: Big R “Retail” is the concept. Little r “retail” is what happens in stores.
If you just Google the word, you'll see most definitions concern themselves with the buying and selling aspect, and often in a store. These definitions only work in a historical setting. In the last twenty years, the retail environment has exploded into models and concepts extending far beyond a store that sells things. Further, the retail design theories that most stores use have leaked over into previously “unretail” spaces. I would also say that a great many spaces that are not “retail” can be read as “Retail.” Look, we could spend a long time talking about meta-definitions and perfomative acts and back-reading retail theory into a lot of things, but to lay it out, here's the official Green Enterprises definition of Retail.
Retail – a physical or conceptual space open to the public, or a segment of the public, voluntarily entered that communicates a certain set of information and values. These spaces concern themselves with the flow of human traffic, the direction of gaze, and the dissemination of information in written, ideographic, and coded formats. Retail also relates too how people interact with this environment.
I spent the last year of university working in cultural studies, which deals with how we speak, write, and show how culture is communicated between people. For example, wearing a ring on a certain finger in England signifies marriage in many cultures. With this framework, I'll break down this definition of Retail in coming blogs, especially the part about coding of information in a Retail environment.
Have you read Paco Underhill's book Why We Buy? You should. He is an anthropologist who took the study of the marketplace in far-off realms and turned it around on the American shopper. One of the first studies he did wasn't on a store, but a hallway. He watched how people moved through a hallway and the interactions that happened. Someone stopping to tie their shoe, buy a newspaper, find the bathroom, that kind of thing. He later applied it to a gift shop in that hallway. The human flow and how they interacted with the environment was the important data.
This is why I don't limit my definition of Retail to stores exclusively. It is the 21st century, and we have more classes of retail than ever before. We have the modern marketplace of the Mall, retail education (museums), retail entertainment (amusement parks), retail health (doctor's and dentist's offices vs hospitals), retail manufacturing (3D printer labs and Makerspaces). After watching the recent federal political arena in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom I would say we've entered into retail politics as well. The substance of the political discourse is still there, but it's under a layer of brand, gloss, and symbol. No one reads the 35-page white paper on economics, but we know the talking points and catch phrases.
If I were to distill down the definition to one simple message, something to use as a guiding design principle, it's “What do I want people to do?” This is general and specific. Standing in front of shelves, what do I want them to buy? Standing in front of a museum display, What do I want them to learn? What valuations about the products can I make them make by looking around my store? High quality? Affordable? Technically complex? Durable? Masculine? Youthful? What does your store say?