THE CASE FOR GREENER RETAIL SPACES

From time to time, we all like to indulge in a little retail therapy, but are our everyday shopping experiences designed to be just as relaxing?

The nature of our society means that unless you are living completely off the grid, visiting the shops is an essential part of day-to-day life. For many of us, however, large concrete malls lit with fluoro lighting have little appeal, and that’s because we are hard-wired to prefer contact with the natural world.

The idea of biophilic design – the practice of integrating nature into the built environment – is being steadily adopted in office buildings, homes and public spaces, but there’s a lot less public discussion on how this way of design could improve our shopping experiences, to the benefit of both customers and retailers.

The research that is being done, however, is showing that shopping centres are losing some of their appeal. Being devoid of elements such as natural light and plants – things that instinctively boost our mood, improve focus and reduce stress – malls and shopping centres provide little relief from the sheer amount of stimuli in these environments. This leaves shoppers feeling tired, overwhelmed and less likely to make a purchase.

So in a time when the retail sector is trying to compete with the rising popularity of online shopping, could rethinking the way we design retail spaces be the answer?

The benefits of biophilic retail design

 The Apple Store in Brussels features trees that are visible to people outside the store. The use of natural materials such as wood complements this biophilic approach to design. Image via Data News.

The Apple Store in Brussels features trees that are visible to people outside the store. The use of natural materials such as wood complements this biophilic approach to design. Image via Data News.

When asked to name their ideal shopping experiences, consumers immediately start to think about the ambience of a space, rather than the products a store sells. This indicates that to customers, it’s the in-store experience that lingers in their memory, not what they purchased.

Elements they list as being important to them include:

  • Spacious layout

  • Bright, natural light

  • Greenery

  • Atmosphere

  • Background music

One of most noted studies in this area was published in 2003 and since then, researchers have found that consumers will go out of their way to shop at stores, precincts and shopping centres with greenery. Once there, they will also spend more time exploring and shopping.  

By bridging the disconnect between an artificial built environment and the natural world, retailers can create spaces that both customers and staff are more comfortable in. When everyone feels at ease in a space, shoppers will have a better experience not only due to the design, but also thanks to the improved mood of the staff assisting them.

Just like the benefits of green office spaces, the benefits of improved air quality, natural light and biophilia enhance staff retention, job satisfaction and productivity among retail staff. This, in turn, improves their job performance and sales.

 Restaurants as well as retailers can create more engaging experiences through the use of plants. Images via  Yellowtrace  and  Harpers Bazaar . 

Restaurants as well as retailers can create more engaging experiences through the use of plants. Images via Yellowtrace and Harpers Bazaar

A report released earlier this year by the World Green Building Council validated much of the research that has been done in this area.

“The days of ‘grey box retailers’ are numbered,” says Terri Wills, CEO of the World Green Building Council. “A new breed of businesses is emerging which understands that better shopping environments lead to better experiences for consumers, which, in turn, lead to better economics for retailers.”

The report pointed to a number of interesting studies, which found the following results:

  • People prefer tree-lined shopping streets over nature-less business districts.

  • Shoppers will return to green shopping areas and lifestyle centres more frequently.

  • Customers are willing to pay more for goods purchased from green shopping precincts. How much more depends on which study you read, with figures ranging from nine to 25 percent.

  • When stores with little or no daylight are fitted with skylights, profits per square metre increase. In one Californian study, the profits from increased sales were 20 times more than the savings in energy costs.

  • For every 1 percent rise in visitor dwell time, there is a 1.3 percent increase in sales.

Brisbane’s James Street is a perfect example of a green shopping precinct. Not only is it lined with trees, but the street also has a number of buildings where plants are incorporated into the design.

 Image via  Yellowtrace

Image via Yellowtrace

Around the precinct, Devil’s Ivy hangs overhead, climbers cling to the external walls of high-end boutiques and a canopy of trees provides respite from the warm climate. And, importantly, the trees are also visible from within many of the shops. The precinct now stands out as one of the city’s most fashionable shopping spots – a far cry from its past as an industrial hub.

 Image via  The Copy Merchant

How to incorporate biophilic design into a retail space

 Vertical gardens as well as pot plants and hanging pots can be used to make a space more appealing to customers. Images via  Steamed not Fried  and  Vtwonen.

Vertical gardens as well as pot plants and hanging pots can be used to make a space more appealing to customers. Images via Steamed not Fried and Vtwonen.

There are a number of ways to enhance the presence of greenery in individual stores as well as larger shopping precincts. Not all stores need to feature installations such as vertical gardens – simply having a view outside, preferably to a green space, will have a similar impact on customers.

In spaces where there are no views, however, plants serve a number of important functions. Not only do they have aesthetic appeal, they also filter the air and improve the acoustics within a space, creating a better sense of privacy. Making these considerations in the early stages of a design project can have a significant impact on the final atmosphere and appeal of a space.

Ways to implement biophilic design include:

  • Allow for any natural views to be visible from within a retail space.

  • Incorporate plants into the interior and exterior of a building.

  • Create a symbolic connection to nature through the use of organic shapes, patterns and textures.

  • Establish shops and shopping precincts adjacent to parks and other green spaces.

The spaces we choose to spend time in should ultimately enhance our quality of life. If people are turning away from shops, we need to ask why. Where online shopping offers convenience, bricks-and-mortar retailers now have the opportunity to rethink their approach by creating in-store experiences that enhance the lifestyle and leisure time of their customers.

Related reading: Biophilic design at work: Why we need greener offices

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