7 principles of retail experience design – re-imagined for digital

In an increasingly connected world, the lines between the different strands of Brand Experience Design are blurring. Companies like Burberry are leading the charge in creating a combined physical and digital offering. This has made us ask: How easy is it to apply the principles of successful store design to digital experience creation? A quick search on Google and it turns out, many of us are thinking along the same lines.


Jen Hennings


Jen constantly strives to push the envelope and make sure that the client isn't settling for anything less than extraordinary. Her background includes commercial, e-commerce, B2B, and engineering. Combine this with strong technical knowledge and experience designing across all platforms.

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Eye-catching visual design
I’m pretty sure it goes without saying, but we are definitely in a world where the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” doesn’t apply anymore. Having a fantastic customer journey and experience is crucial, but you have to have something to actually get them “through the door.” Visuals and messaging should be tailored to the tastes and preferences of the target demographics of your business. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to re-brand or totally change your style guide, but it does mean that you need to push the envelope.

From a digital perspective, the concept of a “shop-front” is a little difficult to define. It would be easy to assume that having a great home or landing page design is adequate. However, the consideration stage of a digital customer journey starts well before a potential customer’s first visit to your business’ homepage.

Apply the same level of innovation and creativity across all of your marketing materials, even if it’s something as simple as your SEO strategy or email newsletter design.

Enhance the customer journey
The longer the amount of time that a prospect positively experiences interacting with your brand, the more likely you are to convert them from a lead to an actual customer. However, B2B audiences are very time-poor. As such, they will only devote their time to experiences that they deem to be valuable. The value of a customer experience can be defined in multiple ways;

  • Providing an intuitive and rewarding pathway from discovery and consideration through to purchase
  • Educating and enabling the audience as they progress through the journey

It’s important to remember that education is very different from marketing. You are not trying to sell your services every step of the way. That can become off-putting very quickly. Instead, you’re looking to provide content that is relevant to your audience and related to your business. The primary purpose of educational content’s is to establish or reinforce the perceived expertise of your brand, thus building trust.

Mark out the customer pathway
Inclusion of Visible Navigation is one of the core principles of Usability that must be adhered to when creating any design or experience. Your customers aren’t mind readers. Don’t expect them to be able to follow the entire journey from start to finish without prompting.

Providing clear signposting and navigation throughout their journey will increase their confidence in the process, and, more importantly, your brand. Supplement this with obvious indicators of the user’s progress throughout their journey and intuitive controls so that they can easily move from one stage to the next. All of this will make your customers feel in control. With that, they’ll feel empowered to make the decision to purchase from you.

Steer customers in their preferred direction
Research into the movement patterns of retail shoppers has shown that they naturally veer to the right when they enter a retail space. Accordingly, store designers should place large, visually-appealing displays and POS counters on the right-hand side of the retail space. In the same vein, it’s vital for digital designers to understand and adjust to the studied behaviours and expectations of their target audience if they want to create the best possible customer experience.

There are several design elements that can be directly tailored to the target audience demographic for your brand:

  • Position and behaviour of navigation and interactions
  • Use of imagery and colour that plays to cultural sensitivities of target demographics
  • Tonality, and use of appropriate language in your messaging
  • Platform priority—i.e., the preferred devices of your audience

Be bold, creative and innovative
…and disruptive? Disruptive design is one of those buzzwords that gets bandied around plenty. But being disruptive is not always a positive and, as such, should be treated with care.

With a continual lack of time comes a consistent lack of patience. This is especially true when it comes to B2B audiences. Inserting obstacles along the way of their intended journey—just for the sake of being disruptive—isn’t likely to produce a positive response. Web users won’t look for a path around the wall you’ve put in their way. They’ll just leave.

However, there are ways of being disruptive that don’t put the customer journey at risk. Look at the changes in design trends over the last few years. The introduction of “flat” design was disruptive, throwing away the old model of skeuomorphism and replacing it with something simplistic, focusing on depth rather than detail. What we currently see is the re-adoption of skeuomorphism principles within the simplicity of “flat” design. That’s disruption at its most effective—where it doesn’t break the mold simply for the sake of it, but rather for the sake of true progress.

Aerate the design and layout
Beware of over-crowding your space. It may be tempting to provide your audience with as much content as possible to get them to extend their journey with your brand. Yet, there’s a very important line that should not be crossed—one where further addition of content will actually generate a negative effect.

According to Human Factors International, the appropriate use of white space in website design will increase users’ comprehension by 20%. And increased comprehension leads to increased interaction.

White space gives your users time to think, to consider, and to evaluate the content and value that your business can provide. Not only is your content easier to read and your navigation easier to find and use, but the steps of your customer’s journey are much clearer when there’s no clutter.

Make the most of any platform
As responsive design has become firmly entrenched in the world of web design, so has the user’s expectation of an experience that can be delivered via their mobile devices. It’s no longer acceptable to produce a ‘cut-down’ version of your larger site experience on mobile.

These smaller screens actually need to make more of an impact on the user than the full desktop experience does. Think of your mobile site as the ‘pop-up shop’ for your brand, compared to the ‘high-street store’ that your desktop site serves as.

This doesn’t mean that you should try to cram as much content as possible into the smaller space. Instead, focus on the delivery and effect that each piece of content will have on the user. How can you convey the same ‘wow moment’ in 10 words that use 100 to do with a desktop?

The bigger picture
We’re in an exciting age for Experience Design in the B2B sector. Approximately 90% of major businesses believe Customer Experience is the primary battleground on which customer loyalty will be fought for going forward. As such, we are—as Experience Specialists—constantly looking for new ways to push the envelope. And new sources of inspiration to draw from.

At the core, Customer Experience design is the effective design of the sequence of touchpoints that a customer will interact with during their experience of your brand. Accordingly, we think the design of a single touchpoint like a website or an app should take inspiration from all others. Don’t you?

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