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The Rise of the Retail Store Experience

Written by Lara Keene, Vice President

Restoration Hardware
Image of Restoration Hardware in Chicago. Courtesy of Carly Gallagher, Investment Broker.

Over the last several years, the retail store experience has shifted along with consumers’ interests, especially in urban environments like downtown Chicago. For many retailers, adapting to the needs of today’s global customer has been a welcomed challenge. Although I’m a retail broker and most often react and experience retail differently than the average individual, I, like everyone else, want every retail interaction to be for me and defined by my preferences. As much as I like coming home to big brown boxes from Amazon Prime– quick, easy and shipped right to my doorstep – most times it just doesn’t satisfy my continuing love affair with the experience of physical shopping.

With anything and everything available online these days, retailers are finding it increasingly important to make the product they’re selling secondary to the customer’s overall shopping experience. The goal is to create stores that are specific to the market with a uniqueness that has consumers coming back time and time again. More and more retailers are finding ways to make their customers stay longer and therefore spend more.

Retailers like Apple have long been creating distinctive experiences in their physical stores, focusing on personalized experiences specific to the customer. Next year, Apple will be relocating their Chicago flagship store further south on the Magnificent Mile in an effort to continue to improve and evolve their customer experience. The sleek glass structure, currently under construction, will be located in front of 401 North Michigan Avenue in Pioneer Plaza and feature mostly lower level space. Shoppers will enter the store from the plaza level through a tall, glass enclosure and impressive modern staircase with the goal of blurring the line between interior and exterior space. The new store is designed in such a way to provide nearly unobstructed views of the Chicago River.

In addition to technology and cellular-based retailers, the trend has emerged among soft-goods retailers throughout the Chicago neighborhoods. Restoration Hardware, for example, has done a remarkable job redeveloping the Historic 3 Arts Club building in Chicago’s residential Gold Coast neighborhood at 1300 North Dearborn Street. The flagship store, totaling approximately 70,000 square feet over six levels, not only features the brand’s home furnishings products, but also has a wine bar, a unique enclosed garden courtyard café, coffee and pastry shop and even a rooftop lounging area.

Further west in Bucktown there have been a slew of new retailers over the course of the last year and a half aimed at influencing the customer experience. Detroit-based Shinola sells their watches, bicycles and leather goods out of their approximately 1,800-square-foot location with a focus on the store serving as a community hub. Toms Shoes, a West Coast-based retailer that donates a pair of new shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold, continues to attract customers just a few doors down. The physical store features its full line of products including eyewear and accessories, along with a full coffee bar. Customers can hang out on their laptops in their new kicks, or contemplate a purchase over a cappuccino.

All said and done, there is still a very important role that physical retail continues to play in people’s lives. People not only want the whole social experience that physical shopping provides, but they want to be able to see and touch what they’re buying. As consumer habits continue to evolve, retailers will continue to challenge the boundaries of a physical store experience. As retail brokers, we’ll need to react further with creative retail leasing solutions to match the wants and desires of the global customer.

Lara Keene | Vice President
Mid-America Real Estate Corporation
Tribune Tower | 435 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 2009 | Chicago, IL 60611
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