The Future of Retailing
October 25, 2012 - 2:22pm
Alexander Grünsteidl of experience design firm Method shares his progressive views on retailing and what it means for lighting showrooms.
Alexander Grusteidl

Residential Lighting: How can the online experience extend into retail?

Alexander Grünsteidl: The way people relate to products is changing rapidly. You can find any chair, any lamp in some form of e-commerce online. But the way we discover products is less and less in a store, and more and more in different situations.

Starbucks has been experimenting with selling furniture. They started because people encountered furniture in their coffee shops. They’d say, “Hey, I’d like to have that at home.”

What you have here is a blind between you in an environment as you’re becoming aware of something and discovering it, and the sales moment where you make the purchase. This phenomenon is going to play out in all aspects of people’s lifestyles —in music, in particular, but also in home furnishings.

RL: So the future of retailing is … ?

AG: The moment of discovery being distributed, and less and less in a specific store. Stores might become oriented to particular lifestyles, rather than to particular items. This means the lighting industry will have to look for new types of collaboration. Imagine that you make a recommendation of a particular lighting quality that goes well with a particular wine. We’ve seen this already in publishing. For example, “If you read this book, listen to this music.” You cross-pollinate. Lighting is emotional and affects people deeply, and there are cultural fixations with lighting as well.

RL: How do we cross-sell lighting?

AG: It’s about managing the discovery process. Lighting might be discovered in a restaurant, a café, a library, at your doctor’s office or in a hotel room. Say you’re in a restaurant. You drink a nice bottle of wine and scan the little bar code or QR code and purchase that wine online. I see that happening with lighting. You get to know a product in a restaurant, and a label on the lamp links you to an Internet site.

Now imagine a future where the lighting equipment is less and less visible as objects, but people shop more for a quality of light. You go to a museum. There you like a certain color temperature setting, and you say, “I’d like to have that at home.” It would be interesting to make those settings portable. In the future, it’s likely that light bulbs will have some type of RGB color-mixing capabilities. That means you could use settings as though they were wallpaper — a lighting profile that becomes the purchasing decision. The standards could be copied and sold. Your role will be to charge for the product and for the creative services.

RL: What does this mean for our showrooms?

AG: In the past, the retailer had the relationship with the customer. Now, the role of retailer is changing because manufacturers want to have the relationship with the customer. The role of the retailer is more as a mediator. He introduces and manages the relationship. The old-fashioned retailers are becoming lifestyle advisers rather than salesmen. They need to extract value from something else.

For example, lots of bookstores started selling coffee to pay for the rent; the books were the attractor. The value transaction shifted radically. I’m afraid that more traditional forms of retail will not survive. But there are opportunities to maintain a location that represents a particular lifestyle. I’m talking about the arts, music, hobbies — experiences from which we discover furniture and lighting fixtures.

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