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Cool stores, hot spending

An increasing number of shops are using interior design to lure in customers and keep them there longer.

A hundred meters up from Huckleberry, a store on Andrássy út where you can buy – among other things – Armani Junior for your kids, is Capsule, a new high-end fashion store. It is called Capsule because it houses the capsule collection, or more affordable pieces, of big fashion houses. The shop’s design is loyal to its name: inside, many of the goods are displayed on white capsules on the walls. If the gentleman in uniform at the door doesn’t scare you off and you summon the courage to enter, a very kind and modest shop assistant guides you through the collection.

Not far away, in the busiest section of Deák Ferenc utca (a.k.a Fashion Street), a recently opened shop stands out of the line of high-end brands. It is Vodafone’s Smart Store, a new breed in the mobile store market. Here you can also meet men in uniform at the door, but their apparel – a pair of jeans and white tees with color print – definitely won’t frighten anyone. In contrast to Capsule’s cold elegance, the Smart Store is warm and vibrating. Red brick walls, huge TV panels, wooden and glass tables displaying phones by brand. Shop assistants, of which there are plenty, buzz around the place with tablet PCs in their hands, and come to your assistance whenever you need it.

At first sight, the two shops have nothing in common. Location, maybe. But on a closer inspection, they are more alike than one would think.

They both timed their opening carefully right before Christmas, to take full advantage of irresponsible shopping sprees that are ‘justified’ by the end-year holiday season. With their fancy interiors, they are trying to make people forget about the crisis. The shops suggest they can afford it, and that people can as well. Eventually, their goal with all those elements is to shake up sales. Design is just a means to meet that end.

If a store is unusual, people are more likely to enter: curiosity is always stronger than rationale. Once inside, the owners and designers try their best to keep potential customers in. Vodafone’s concept with its casual gallery-café ambience is meant to enhance coziness. An overly modern, sterile environment can be intimidating: people will feel uncomfortable. But if a shop can make you feel at home, you are more likely to stay, thus boosting the chance of a purchase.

A smart but laid-back atmosphere definitely works better than, say, one-stop points where customer service and shopping are not separated. Little wonder that potential shoppers won’t linger in a place where they were summoned because of an unpaid bill or customer service issues. There, shop assistants will approach people differently. In fact, they don’t go over to them: everyone is required to have a number and wait his or her turn: like at the post office or at a bank. In the Smart Shop, the assistant is more like a good mate as he ponders over the mysteries of operating systems like iOS or Android with you.

The overall aim of Capsule on Andrássy út may be the same, but it achieves it with different tools. Imposing shop windows, large empty spaces, not a customer inside who could give one some pretext to enter. That is exactly its goal: to filter unwanted customers. While in a fast-fashion chain six to eight shop assistants are at the service of customers, here there are only two. There is no need for more, as they don’t need to handle crowds of people.

So the next time you enter a stylish shop that has Neo-baroque chandeliers and gilded wallpaper, try and guess what shopping behavior pattern you are expected to display.


Quick Q&A

with Péter Kucsera, managing and marketing director of Gepetto Design Studio

Q: Can stores with luxurious or unique interior design enhance sales?

A: The fact that there is a recession doesn’t mean that demand for luxury faded. Competition for customers is even greater. Making design become part of a service is a smart move: it suggests quality and explains price.

Q: Aren’t shops with luxurious interiors intimidating, or exclusive? Don’t they exclude, or frighten off many people?

A: They do, but that is a good thing. Customers of luxury goods not only buy these products because of their quality. They want to feel there are not too many who can afford it. Should the design of these shops attract everyone inside, it would fail to meet this purpose.

Q: What about a casual and hip atmosphere? What is the purpose of that?

A: Designers create interiors based on desired future shopping behaviors. With electronic or mobile devices, the aim is to make shoppers linger longer. Everything in the design serves that. The more time they spend with a device, the better they get to know it, the more likely they are to buy it. With clothes, it is more like love at first sight. The interior must pressure customers to decide in an instant.