Physical retail is the most traditional and old-fashioned kind of business around. The rules might seem to be set in stone and there might appear to be very little room for creativity, but that’s just not true when you take a closer look. Some of the most successful retail businesses are starting to show the real value of creative thinking. Not just in branding, not just in converting and maintaining customers, but even in how you run the logistic and administrative side of the store.

Reach the customer unexpectedly

It doesn’t matter what kind of retail store you run, you have to brand it as more than the items on the shelves. Branding it as the lifestyle that those items help people live is going to create the emotional appeal that can be the real deciding factor for a lot of buyers. But you can make that message even more impactful by choosing to take your branding efforts outside of the usual confines. For instance, many stores are starting to use digital devices, using their physical proximity to send messages and ads targeting those who are closer to the store. There are those marketing efforts that go beyond the expected, too, in physical guerilla marketing or online viral marketing. If you can surprise the customer, you’re a lot more likely to hold their attention.

It creates more than a shop, but an experience

Your business has one aim above all else, which is to sell the particular product of your choice. However, you can add a unique spin to it by putting a little effort and resources in providing something extra when the customer steps in the store. To use one example, you can look at how Starbucks will sell CDs of the music playing in their locations or how Hollister Co. sells magazines that appeal to the lifestyle that their clothing is helping customers create. Focusing on the customer experience is more likely to not only make them return. It can help them buy into the brand and become real fans, not just revenue streams.

creative shop ideas

Get them in the door

How are you displaying your items? If you’re not really putting much thought into it, you could be missing the power of visual merchandising. Visual merchandising is about more than making the front window look appealing. It helps you create different zones for different themes and even direct the customer’s physical journey through the store. One aspect of visual merchandising you can benefit from is the novelty of it. A big, bold display of a certain product or brand can draw attention to it and make it feel like something of an event, which makes customers more likely to give it a try. You can use anything from cardboard display stands to extravagant permanent displays.

Leverage your people

Your staff are more than just work hours you can make use of. Especially in retail, their personalities and how they interface with visitors to the store can improve conversions and really shape the customer’s experience. Companies that go too hard on the policies limiting their staff can actually be hurting the business. Treat your frontline workers well and let them be creative, so long as they’re not breaking any major rules. If you have a truly charismatic person on the team, let them take the lead and follow their own approach. Limiting your staff too much makes them feel restrained. That way, they’re less likely to feel truly happy about their position and less likely to be the welcoming, helpful presence you need because they’re just not engaged or motivated.

creative colors shop

It’s practical above all else

As mentioned, creativity goes beyond the customer experience. Creative approaches to running inventory and organizing the store make the business run better overall. If you’re using QR code and RFID tags for asset tracking, you’re reducing the amount of manual time that has to be spent on these often-monotonous tasks. That gives you a lot more time to think about the changes and plans that help the business truly make money and gives your staff more time to interface with customers and help them complete their journey positively. The front-end of the store is only going to be able to continue running well if things are moving smoothly in the back-end, too.

Creative thinking and out-of-the-box problem solving should be welcome in every business, no matter how established the industry and no matter how strong the norms. Physical retail spaces are starting to compete and integrate with their more convenient online counterparts. For that reason, they need to find their own ways of keeping up.


  • Luke
    Nicely written Alex. Being able to give a chance and believe that someone in the 'front line' will be able to understand and arrange things accordingly is a bold, but a good move.