How Technology Has Changed Retail Design

The ever-expanding digital realm is always finding new ways to plant itself in the marketplaces of the world.

When we look at the financial industry, technology has always been a staple for increasing efficiency, transparency, and ease of use for customers. In more laborious industries like fabrication and manufacturing, advancing technology is responsible for reducing labour times and increasing consistency for deliverables – and increasing the quality and cosmetic value of goods as well.

Retail environments are no exception. Advancing technologies are integral to how customers interact with a space, and help make for an enjoyable, up-to-date setting that accommodates the everyday tech people are already using. From nearly all aspects of retail design, technology is key to helping customers feel as though they’re in a modern environment that’s relevant and capable of keeping up with the times.

So what are some of the biggest ways technology has impacted retail design?


First and foremost, technology is – and has always been – a reliable source of inspiration for retail spaces. It’s our access to technology in the forms of new websites, social media accounts, ideas, and personalities that provide us with inspiration for our own projects. Even if we’re just using technology to search for photos and reference material to better our own ideas, using new technologies keeps them at our fingertips.

Cad technologies made available through tablets and smartphones allows us to try our hand at planning layout designs for unique new spaces, and investigating how customer movement and interior flow can better be realized. Technology is a great way to share, collaborate on, and question the choices we make, and can offer better ways of tackling problems and obstacles with ease.

Technology has the power to inspire our design choices in terms of materials, potential use of eco-friendly options, aesthetic recommendations, colour theory research, and psychological triggers that help customers to embrace our retail design choices. Without access to this huge resource of information, we’d still be guessing in the dark.


How customers flow through the checkout counter will increasingly represent a way that technology has penetrated the retail world. Integrating self checkout technologies is one way to integrate new technologies into retail design that can reduce idle time, and increase feelings of control in your customers.

At the 2014 InformationWeek Elite 100, the top retail innovation was awarded to the QueVision system, geared at reducing checkout times in retail establishments. With time being an ever-decreasing commodity for most people, saving time in the checkout line is critical to not only increasing the customer’s enjoyment of their time in your retail environment, but also increasing the amount of money that’s able to be placed in an establishment’s coffers. Increasing this efficiency has everything to do with customer satisfaction.

There’s also the ability to use everyday household items to complete transactions. Tablets and plug-in’s for some smartphones can now accept payments via credit card and interac. This significantly reduces the in-house costs of renting and training on older methods of payment equipment, like cash registers and debit machines.

Self-checkout also puts customer satisfaction and reduction of idle time spent standing in line at the forefront of importance. It’s also directly responsible for reducing company overhead costs. A CBC study found that checking a passenger at the airport costs about $3, but when self check technology takes over, that cost is reduced to about 14 cents. The Harvard Business Review says self checkout could be the future because of its psychological benefits relating to issues of control; customers like having control over their purchases – so if you can – give it to them.

Display & Presentation

Storefronts and engaging retail layouts are integral to attracting customers into your space. Simply put, if physical aesthetics are neglected, people who would otherwise be interested in a store, won’t be – if there’s nothing to pull a customer in, they’ll find another spot that does.

Technology aids in the cosmetics and overall aesthetic of good retail design these days in a number of ways – like digital signage for example. High-performance technology as signs can act as interactive invitations to explore any number of retail environments. If you’re looking to paint your living room for example, and you just can’t pin down the perfect colour, your local neighbourhood hardware store likely has an interactive touch display that will show you what specific colours will look like in a room. Same thing if you’re renovating your kitchen or office – a detailed illustration via a digital display is a great way to inspire trust and confidence in a retail marketplace.

In traditional retail spaces like malls, stores and small businesses, a display on a simple loop outlining a creative and attractive sale is a great way to engage your customers interests. Alternatively, a clothing store, or a lifestyle brand would do well to screen short films and video productions that feature their products in a showreel or look-book form. Food and hospitality spaces can do much the same by showing their delicious foods in action, being enjoyed by people who fit the ideal target demographic.

Handheld Technologies

Social media can be used for much, much more than just spreading the word about your retail business – it can be used to help customers purchase your products direct from their phones, blurring the lines between traditional retail shops and e-commerce.

E-commerce has grown 18% per year in the last decade, making up 8% of total retail sales, meaning that digital shopping and purchasing is literally in the palms of people’s hands. What’s better, is realizing that technology like social media and digital shopping accelerate all stages of the buyer journey – from stranger to loyal promoter.

Both Twitter and Pinterest have recently teamed up with ecommerce software groups to experiment with “Buy” buttons accessible from tablets and smartphones. What’s even more interesting is that beacon technology can send your in-store customers notifications of specials, deals, sales etc that may be going on in the shop using proximity marketing and other location-based technologies accessible from smartphones.

These technologies send real-time messages to individuals passing by, or already in your retail space. According to a study from Business Insider, beacon technology contributed to $4 billion in retail sales in the US in 2015. In 2016, that number was expected to increase “tenfold.”

This technology also has the potential to collect valuable data about consumer behaviour and in-store habits, resulting in targeted tech campaigns, increases in sales and increased sales efficiency. Knowledge and info act as ongoing, evolving signifiers about your business’s tech uses.

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