Like it or not, the Internet has changed the retail experience. Consumers have a choice, and for many, the convenience of clicking on a webpage far outweighs any reasons they might have for going into a “brick and mortar” location. But that doesn’t mean retail is dead — far from it. Today’s brands are finding new and engaging ways to entice consumers into their locations, and wide-format printers are playing a major role in that evolution.
First, it is important to define the “retail experience.” It is about more than just the décor of a shop and graphics on the walls. The retail experience is about creating engaging situations consumers can’t find anywhere else, by extending the experience beyond shopping.
“I think there is a fine line between not just décor, but the experience,” says Gurmeet Singh Sawhney, owner, Aahs Enterprises. “But they go hand in hand.”
That is a sentiment that Tom Lawson, director of operations for EclipseCorp, explains. “The projects that we see, it’s more than just printing a brochure or a poster on card stock and then putting it in a frame and hoping it intrigues someone shopping. We can print to a hard substrate and form that into an interactive piece someone can see, touch, feel and maybe use.”
Experience it For Yourself
One example of how a wide-format printer can shape a retail brand experience is evident in D’Andrea Visual Communications’ work for an Old Navy holiday campaign.
Scott Powers, founder/VP of sales, notes that when creating pieces to engage consumers, the key is to ensure the shop is involved from the beginning.
“The up-front planning is the biggest challenge,” he says. “You need to make sure all the specs are correct and the correct materials are being used. You need to have everyone on the same page — the client, the printer and the installer. You want to get it right the first time.”
Lawson notes that one of the biggest challenges EclipseCorp has faced is the drive to always do better. “You are only as strong as your last portfolio piece. You have to constantly be reigniting and creating something better than the last.”
Part of how he does that is being involved from the very beginning. “It’s a true partnership,” Lawson says. “It can be as simple as a brainstorm session, or as complex as an engineered drawing as to how something will be built. We like to be involved every step of the way, from the concept meeting all the way to the installation. I feel that the creative companies that can offer that as a solution are going to be more successful with higher-end retailers.”
Lawson cautions, however, that being involved from the beginning can be a double-edged sword. Bringing in production too early can hinder the design process, and that isn’t the response a shop wants from potential partners, he says. While there are limitations in what the equipment can produce, it is far better to let the creative teams “dream big, and then figure out how to do it.”
Aahs Enterprises has been involved with several projects that aim to create an overall experience, says Sawhney, including one major project that involved printing 35,000 sq. ft. of what looked like wood-grain paneling for the San Francisco airport.
The airport wanted to create an environment where travelers felt relaxed and comfortable as they waited for their flights, as well as make it feel more upscale — which would only benefit the retail storefronts.
However, Sawhney cautions, it can be easy when approaching a project like this to do too much. Getting the experience right is as much about knowing what not to include, as what actually makes it into the location.
“You can overkill it,” he notes. “You have an arsenal of stuff, and you have to do the right amount — the right graphics, material, size, etc. Just because you can do so much and have access to so many materials, doesn’t mean you should use them all. If not done right, you won’t get the look and feel of that project. It’s like medicine: it can do really good in the right doses, but too much will make you sick.”
The Wide-Format Experience
When thinking about creating a retail experience, brands’ first thoughts may not be about wide-format printing. Instead, they often think about the product and the finished look, but don’t necessarily realize how much can be produced by a printer. But that can be overcome if approached the right way. Demonstrating the versatility of wide-format, along with the creative power of the shop, can go a long way toward building a lasting relationship.
Powers notes one aspect printers can use to demonstrate the value of wide-format is how much more focused it can be.
“The biggest benefits over other technologies would be communicating your brand in a medium that is delightful on the eyes and not as distracting as digital signage that may look like a commercial,” he says.
Lawson notes that shops shouldn’t be afraid to talk up the size and unique properties of wide-format, either. “We can put a piece in a space or build something that goes into what would traditionally be a nonmarketed area,” he notes. “We can also do material that has texture that would be difficult for a web fed or sheetfed press to produce.”
However, Sawhney says, shops also need to be realistic about their own capabilities. When it comes to creating a retail experience, “cost effective” doesn’t necessarily win the day. Brands want an environment that will entice customers through the door, and something not done to impeccable standards might run the risk of having the opposite effect.
“You can’t do shortcuts,” Sawhney says. “When we first started, we were very B2C [business to consumer], and we tried to find the most cost-effective way to print — three passes is good enough instead of six, for example. But with these types of projects, never take a shortcut, even it if takes longer. Do it right and these customers will come back.”
Using print effectively in the retail space comes down to using graphics in targeted, innovative and engaging ways to give consumers a reason to walk through the doors. The mantra that every wide-format printer looking to get into the retail experience business should adhere to is summed up by Powers: “Wide-format technology means larger graphics, and larger graphics will help create a more immersive in-store experience. This allows your brand to be seen better and help your messaging stick.”