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Retailers must embrace holistic design that seamlessly blends the physical and digital realms, say two Directors from an award-winning Irish design agency. These multifunctional spaces will encourage customers to visit, dwell and purchase.

What is ‘strategic design’ and why is it key to a better retail experience? 

Niamh Higgins: Strategic design is evidence-based. It begins with a deep understanding of our client’s goals and objectives. Strategy asks questions that lead to different thinking and compelling solutions. It goes beyond aesthetics to optimise the shopping experience and create a well-considered customer journey. It’s the foundation upon which we build exceptional retail experiences.

How does it go beyond aesthetics when designing retail experiences?

NH: Retail is about more than just looks; it’s about form, function and feeling. We consider every aspect of design, from the way a space functions to the emotions it evokes in customers. This approach means we are being thoughtful and deliberate in every design decision.

Gemma Ní Maoltuile: Delivering a commercial return requires data-based and measurement-based thinking. That means studying a client’s brand and customers in nuanced detail, which results in the right design solutions that can drive footfall and increase sales.

Retailers must create experiences
that become ingrained in the memory
of that place, at that time.

Niamh Higgins

How does strategic design work in practice?

NH: First, through a ‘discovery process,’ we host workshops and interviews with the client to delve into their brand’s essence. By defining brand fundamentals, we uncover what makes them unique. This clarity is crucial for creating cohesive retail experiences that authentically represent the brand.

GNM: Collaboration is vital. We work closely with our clients, bringing together their insights and our expertise from day one. By co-creating success, we ensure that the final retail experience aligns with the brand’s vision and resonates with its audience.

What is ‘the brand experience’ and how does it impact retail?

NH: The brand experience encompasses the sum of all touchpoints — where a brand interacts with its audience, both offline and online. For instance, customer service, in-store environment and website navigation. These interactions create a lasting impression of a brand.

Brands must transcend the traditional ‘omnichannel’ approach, which focuses on presence across various channels, and embrace the novel ‘metachannel’ strategy — seamless integration across all touchpoints – physical stores, online and in the metaverse. This paradigm shift requires retailers to harness the power of data and creativity to reimagine, harmonise and meld experiences around the consumer. Establishing a more consistent and connected customer experience.

GNM: To that end, we’ve developed a holistic Brand Experience Audit Tool, which audits impact across all touchpoints — physical and digital — and gives the client a brand experience score. This sets a benchmark, which allows transformation to start.

How does this address customer experience needs?

NH: We emphasise the importance of understanding and optimising the customer journey. Through methods like experience mapping, we walk in the shopper’s shoes. We map the macro (overview) and then micro (detailed) customer journeys based on profiles and missions. We then identify opportunities on the customer journey to disrupt and delight.

We consider how digital and tech can seamlessly integrate and enhance the experience versus tech for tech’s sake. This enables us to meet not only customer ‘wants’ but also fulfil their deeper needs, prompting greater satisfaction and loyalty.

What sets a brand apart in the crowded retail landscape?

GNM: Differentiation comes through unique brand experience pillars. We work with clients to identify and develop these pillars, which become the touchpoints that set their brand apart. It’s about creating memorable and distinct experiences that keep customers coming back.

How do you see retail design shaping tomorrow’s experiences?

NH: Consumers are more discerning than ever, searching for experiences that are authentic, relevant and unique. To stay ahead, retailers should adopt strategic retail design. They can then create experiences that become ingrained in the memory of that place, at that time.

Design for circularity will be key. For instance, modular solutions with materials that are sustainably sourced, repurposed or designed for reuse and longevity. There will be more connected and immersive cross-channel experiences leveraging new technologies. Crucially, spaces tech-enabled or not, should serve all users; regardless of ability, age or culture. From this perspective, inclusive design can’t be ignored. Retailers with versatile and adaptable spaces will emerge as key players — now and tomorrow.


Managing Director, TapCreative

Gemma Ní Maoltuile

Client Director, TapCreative

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