Kenneth Freeman, head of innovation at Ambius
The retail sector is saturated with companies all competing and vying for the attention of customers. Retailers need to seek any advantage that ensures consumers step into their store, rather than the one down the road.
Creating a shopping experience that consumers will enjoy and remember is central to any store’s long-term success. One element that must not be forgotten is making an inviting physical retail space. A cost friendly, yet effective way of doing this is through the use of plants.
Indoor plants can be underestimated as a tool that can deliver an engaging and rounded customer experience. This is linked to the ‘biophilia’ hypothesis. As humans, we innately seek affiliation with the natural world and often feel more relaxed and content when we are surrounded by nature, and it’s not only with plants; just using the colour green can have a significant impact. Applying this theory in retail environments can have a massive influence on the way in which consumers interact with a brand, and retailers can harness nature’s inherent power to put people at ease by decorating their space with lush greenery.
The use of plants in a retail store isn’t necessarily a new concept. However, people’s understanding of the impact it can have on wellbeing and productivity is growing, resulting in larger, more impressive green features in retail environments across the globe.
Take Apple’s flagship store on Regent Street in London for example, a retail space which is large enough to host 12 ‘long-leaf fig’ trees on the ground level. Not only do these impressive trees bring an element of wonder to the store, they also double-up as comfortable places to sit, as seating cushions have been incorporated within the rims of their pots – enticing customers to stay in store longer. With so many of Apple’s high tech products scattered across the store, the trees provide a welcome contrast, offering an element of calm and serenity, in what is often a packed shop.
Elsewhere, Diesel worked with the London College of Fashion as part of a takeover of the brand’s London flagship store, with a different flower display being featured on each of the three floors. Green walls are also proving to be popular in retail, demonstrated by installations at Anthropologie and West Elm in London. Here, they create huge visual impact, whilst also reducing noise and saving floor space at the same time. Meanwhile around the world, in Kuwait for example, the 360 Mall has installed a living wall comprised of more than 101 different species of plant.
Plants aren’t included simply for aesthetic purposes. Research carried out by Craig Knight and Tom Postmes (and their colleagues) at the University of Exeter (UK) and University of Groeningen (Netherlands) has shown that the enrichment of spaces with items such as plants, art or even fragrances, enables people or brands to realise a sense of their own identity. This in turn boosts engagement and wellbeing, decreasing stress levels, and encouraging a more relaxed and pleasant shopping experience. In shops that don’t have access to fresh air, such as inside a shopping centre, plants can help to improve air quality. In these environments, carbon dioxide (CO2) can often build up throughout the day which results in the familiar ‘sleepy’ feeling some of us may get in the afternoon, if you’ve been inside all day. Whilst this increase is not dangerous to health, it can have an impact on your mood.
Plants have been shown to absorb and degrade air pollutants as well as replenish the levels of oxygen in the air through photosynthesis. Some may argue that ventilation systems act in the same way but it is doubtful they will have the same positive biophilic effects. Using plants can also limit reliance on costly ventilation systems, delivering cost savings for shopping centre managers and reducing energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Adding plants to retail spaces is a small price to pay for a fairly large reward. If you can use plants to create an environment in which customers are happy, relaxed and feel refreshed, then it makes sense to believe that they will stay longer and possibly even purchase an extra product or two.