Shopping social

How the consumer experience can surpass the product.

We’ve just finished designing a café environment based on the insight that its customers will be just as excited about what they can post on social media, as they will be about what they consume. It’s been suggested the café’s young female customers will order 2-3 items, which they will photograph and share across social.

These shots will incorporate themselves and ideally the environment they are served in. Although these customers may only take a bite or two out of the items, consumption is not the point, the goal is to share the experience.

Sharing online can have both a practical and a social purpose. In the latest reincarnation of Abercrombie and Fitch, the dressing rooms are the focus of the design. Dressing rooms are now suites where friends can go in together to try things on. The customers are in full control of the environment and can adjust the music and lights to their suit and mood.

There’s on-demand assistance and a phone charging station – so there’s no excuse not to take selfies. The whole idea is geared towards the social aspect of shopping – both physical and virtual. It’s easy to check in, enlist the help of your friends, review your experience, and of course share your purchases with your online community.

Social media has provided the means for a certain genre of shops not to rely on mass visitation. It’s enough that they simply exist in some obscure location where a select few customers, bloggers and retail tourists can visit and, more importantly, share the experience. Online does most of the heavy lifting in selling the product. They are often pop ups – highly creative but short-lived. One example is Off White’s Tokyo store in Aoyama.

It’s a surreal re creation of a twentieth century white-collar working environment. It’s bright, stark and vaguely disturbing- but it’s visually striking and photographs extremely well. And that’s the whole point of it. It’s Instagrammed voluntarily by every visitor. User generated content is the new gold- and it’s free. Each and every shop design we now complete needs to be not just functional but highly photogenic. No one Instagrams boring shops.

Another darling of the bloggers is the 24 Kilates sneaker store in Bangkok. It’s a perfect example of New Retail. It’s in an obscure location therefore, discoverable only through social media. It’s out of context, small, exclusive, one-off, global. Built from gold-coloured Alucobond, it’s designed like a bank vault with limited edition sneakers housed in safety deposit boxes. Customers discover it through social media and go off the beaten track to visit it. For those who can’t visit, buy online, seduced by other customers’ photos and posts.

Korean eye ware brand Gentle Monster’s flagship stores are more about surreal art than glasses. The rate of change required to keep pace with the Instagram generation is incredible as the Shanghai store has a refurbishment of its ground floor space every 25 days.

What does this mean for conventional retail?

In a world of online fulfillment, fewer, more engaging outlets for each brand will be the rule. There will be shorter lease terms and more frequent, cheaper, refurbishment.

Digital enablement doesn’t necessarily mean endless aisle technology and iPads everywhere. Clever design of the physical environment can now feed the digital social world, and sharing on social platforms will in turn inform the design of physical environments, as the mix of the social space and the physical environment is just one part of the New Retail.

Gary McCartney is the owner of McCartney Design and specialises in the design of retail and hospitality interiors and brands. Learn more at




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