A move toward minimalist retail design caters to customers seeking a relaxing and clutter-free shopping experience.
As “busyness” dominates modern society, shopping has become a a therapeutic form of relaxation for many customers. These customers are tired of the “noise” and wish to enjoy a calming and more simple retail ambience.
Simple techniques such as colour alignment (colour that links to the product or culture of the brand), a neutral colour palette and fresh greenery create spaces that customers won’t find distracting or overwhelming. In more and more stores, there is no decorative suspended lighting to obstruct customers' views, and floor space is open.
While wellness and beauty retailers have long taken this design tack, other retail sectors are now tapping into the opportunity and it’s well worth the effort according to multiple studies.
Minimalism sees the paring back of design elements, where function reigns and decoration is kept to a minimum.
Today, the movement is being appreciated for its ability to create a calming and ordered retail environment which makes shopping simple, as exemplified by retailers like Apple, Aesop and Japanese lifestyle brand Muji.
Aesop, a luxury skin care company, utilises sustainable materials in its stores where possible and its retail design echoes its product packaging and its plant ingredients.
Point of sale stands are generally mounted to a sustainable wall, and the stores are clear of clutter and offer a very neutral, earthy colour palette.
Kerstin Thompson Architects, which designed five Aesop stores around Australia, noted that Aesop's designs are simple. For instance, the Aesop store at Melbourne Emporium features sustainably sourced hardwood ply to "create an immersive space that is intimate and visually calm."
Muji's products are understated, reflecting the natural and simplistic philosophy of the brand.
“It’s a philosophy based on anonymity and simplicity through the creation of organic, sustainable products made for a long life," Hisashi Takeyama, Australian-based Muji director told AFR last November. “The stores are an extension of who we are, with their understated design and muted neutral colour palette. Everything is compartmentalised, from the clothing to household products and food.”
A 2014 study titled Role of Shopping Motives, Age and Gender in Evaluating Retail Atmospheric Cues examined how consumers shopping motivations influence the ways in which consumers evaluate design, ambiance and social factors.
Several of the report's findings support a minimalist-inspired design environment.
For example, the authors highlight the challenges of overcrowding when the number of people and/or objects can restrict a shopper's activity - defined as human (social factor) and spatial crowding (design factor).
“Studies have show that the level of perceived in store crowding can affect consumers satisfaction, loyalty or patronage decisions and shopping experience. Overcrowding can confuse the customers and cause them to leave the store without buying anything," the authors state.
Colour was also highlighted as a influencing design factor, affecting consumer mood and emotions.
The authors noted that "light colours can be used to generate feelings of spaciousness and calmness. Neutral and pale colours can be soothing and relaxing. On the other hand, bright colours often create feeling of arousal and excitement."
Minimalist colour schemes can also equate to longevity. Neutral colours don't date as quickly as their brighter counterparts and a clean design space leaves room for flexible and changeable decoration.
It's not all white or clean walls, however. A minimalist space can still be colourful or better yet, serve as a backdrop for bright products.
In Europe, Parisian fashion designer turned luxury homeware designer Muriel Grateau has a store which features a completely white space from floor to ceiling.
Inside, 100 shades of coloured linens are symmetrically placed throughout the white space making the product the hero. According to Cool Hunter, Grateau's goal was to evoke a feeling of floating, to imply that the pieces are unattached and unrestrained by mere surfaces or walls.
Nespresso also utilises colour in its retail boutiques - a template that was originally designed by French architect Francis Krempp thanks to the brand's colour coded coffee pods. The colour is streamlined throughout the store and the design remains timeless and relaxing.
Working on the calming effect, Brisbane-based retail supplier Apex Displays describes minimalist spaces as “highly functional, streamlined for performance and effective.”
“With a peaceful and almost empty environment, you will promote happiness – a feeling people want to take with them, thereby improving the likelihood that they will buy something," the company says.
The Retail Studio in Portland also recognised this benefit.
"Removing clutter from rooms promotes a feeling of tranquility," the firm noted in a recent blog post. "User interfacing simplicity is key for conveying an operating system’s abilities. Clean lines and unadorned forms clearly showcase a product’s function. It also doesn't hurt that a minimal theme is always going to make your home look clean and elegant."
The T-Boutique in Prague, an interior tea boutique, utilises a central skylight and wooden slat structure design. The bright space is highly functional and according to its architects, Studio Pha, features atypical furniture and is designed for relaxing.
"The wooden lightweight structure should evoke the symbolism of traditional tearooms and create a comfortable (Zen) environment for tasting tea," the firm says. "The place where the customer for a moment to enjoy the magic of the moment."
A carefully curated minimalist retail space can help shoppers escape from busy spaces outside the store, allowing shoppers to immerse themselves in a quiet space and perhaps make a purchase as well.