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Brief Published: 21 Aug 2017

International Retail Design Conference 2017: Preview


The International Retail Design Conference (IRDC) is still one of the most significant events in the retail calendar. Hosted in New Orleans, the 2017 edition (September 5-8) will unite visual merchandising experts, store planners, architects and designers to explore the amplification of physical brand touchpoints.

From soft-sell strategies to embracing failure and how to cultivate a cult brand, here’s a rundown of our most hotly anticipated sessions. 

Soft-Sell Spaces

  • Nathan Tan, associate director of brand experiences at car manufacturer Cadillac, and John Box Bricker, creative director at international architects Gensler, will discuss Cadillac House. The brand’s New York flagship is a space where transactions consciously take a backseat in favour of a focus on community, context and legacy. Proving the soft sell is far more than a gimmick, Tan promises to share insights on how its success has been measured, including the impact on consumer loyalty. See also Intimate, Democratic & Inclusive.  
  • Jared Pearce, senior project manager at American outdoor retailer REI, will elaborate on how and why it’s using outdoor-inspired experiences to transform its Washington DC flagship into a “transaction-lite”, experiential destination. See also Active Flagships and Rise of the Exploratorium.
  • Similarly, Michael Koch, director of store development at tech giant Samsung, will dissect its seminal Samsung 837 “brand experience centre” in New York. Specifically, he’ll be focusing on the possibilities created when technology and customer experience are integrated into an “un-store” environment. See Samsung’s Hyperactive Flagship for an overview of the store, as well as Tactics for Retailing Tech.
  • Tapping into this change from transactional to experiential retailing, American author Adam Alter’s keynote is billed as delivering “astonishing research” from his book Drunk Tank Pink, which delves into how humans cognitively respond emotionally, physically and mentally to the shifting world around them.

Learning from the Cult Brand Rulebook

  • Jonathan Lopez, project design director at US/China-based agency Retail Design Collaborative, will be in conversation with Alan Cooke, vice-president of design for the phenomenally popular American fitness brand Soulcycle. This promises to reveal how to craft a cult following via a combination of brand communications and immersive spaces (see also Nike’s Immersive Workout Experience). Additionally, both are due to shed light on new trends in the wider realm of experiential design.

Global Aesthetics: New Store Trends

  • Pushing back against some retailers’ ill-considered obsession with tech regardless of its relevance, Eric Feigenbaum, editor at US-based VMSD magazine, will explore “hero” stores across the globe. He’ll be focusing on surprising, purely analogue design in order to generate the industry’s age-old mantra of surprise and delight. Fellow VMSD editor John Ryan will follow up with an exploration of innovative, future-facing European store trends.
  • Also discussing the latest aesthetics surfacing in store design, but with a lens on the food and beverage sector, will be representatives from organic grocery giant Whole Foods, boutique wine retailer Vino Volo, and organic meal provider Urban Remedy, all based in the US.
  • Adding local relevance to the show, a panel of independent retail owners will share how New Orleans culture is currently informing inspiring store design and visual merchandising, creating authenticity and original storytelling. See also Local Matters: New Glocalisation Strategies.

Hot Topics: Embracing Empathy, Inclusivity & Even Failure

  • US brand Mamava provides pods in public spaces for nursing mothers ‘on the move’. Recapping on the new brand fundamentals detailed in Empathetic Brand Engagement, it will discuss how its “comfortable lactation suites” answer a major call to demolish the stigma surrounding public breastfeeding.
  • Similarly, American architects Bergmeyer Associates Inc will host an interactive workshop focused on outrunning outdated retail stereotypes. Participants will be challenged to rewire their ideas of ‘success’ to unlock failure’s immense impact on innovation – read Surviving Marketing Fails for more.

See also Retail Design Trends: IRDC 2016.