Despite the popularity of online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores are fighting back. Indeed, while online retailers can be hard to beat when it comes to price, they can’t recreate the pleasure that comes from feeling and handling products before purchase.

Reimagining the physical store, concept stores are a jewel in the crown of the high-street retailer, cultivating experiences that simply can’t be replicated on-line; and boosting sales to boot.


What is a successful concept store?

The concept store is, by definition, a place where new ideas are put together in a bid to enhance the shopper experience and sell more stuff.

Concept stores often mix an eclectic assortment of products and lines such as books, beauty, fashion, food, and homewares; all carefully curated to appeal to a specific target audience. In addition, many concept stores offer experimental elements such as a café or exhibition space, enhancing their appeal to those shoppers seeking a particular lifestyle.

However, while concept stores are designed to engage, they shouldn’t be confused with flagship stores. Creating multi-sensory shopping experiences, flagship stores combine aesthetic and interactive elements, making them a destination venue in their own right. Ultimately, flagships are primarily designed to strengthen brands, not to make money.

However, the concept store is all about ROI, with many retailers using them to test the water before rolling out successful ideas across the high-street.


Inspirational concept stores



Set in Manhattan, Story, “takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery, and sells things like a store.” What this means is that the retailer reinvents its look and curated collection of merchandise every four to eight weeks. Big brands such as General Electric, have worked with Story to help promote their products.






Colette is thought to be original concept store, and it’s certainly one of the best known. Located in Paris, its vision is to “Always be new, fresh, surprising, and streets ahead of the rest”.




Shopping Centres 


Volkswagen's first concept store took pride of place in Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre. The concept was designed by Dalziel & Pow and focused heavily on illumination. Ceiling hung lightboxes and illuminated graphic displays were strategically placed near the cars to illuminate the stores focal point and showcase the quality of the Volkswagen to passers by. 




Located in the intu Lakeside shopping centre and designed by Green Room Design, SEAT’s first concept store used a range of display techniques to incorporate natural elements within the space. Digital screens feature alongside the cars on display to give the environment a high-tech modern feel that contrasts with the natural outdoor elements of the store.  



The evolution of the concept store

While many brands claim to have concept stores, there is some dispute over how authentic this is. For example, purists will argue that the Dyson concept store – launched in London earlier this year - can’t claim the title.

The store, which showcases the brand's technology portfolio, encourages visitors to try the products before they buy, and allows shoppers to see what goes on in Dyson’s engineering labs, has certainly been marketed as a concept store. But, as all the products on offer are from Dyson’s own range, and are not curated around a particular premise, or targeted to a particular lifestyle, it can be argued that it is not a ‘true’ concept store.

However, with more and more retailers looking to create stores that offer curation, experience and personalisation, there’s little doubt that the traditional definition of what makes a concept store is changing.




Concept store design

It makes sense that the design of a concept store matches its concept; whatever that might be. For example, a shop designed to appeal to hipsters is likely to use exposed brick, filament bulbs, and vintage fonts. Indeed, when it comes to the concept store, authenticity is key.

What’s more, in concept stores, the online and physical worlds often collide, with intelligent product displays, interactivity, and digital technology used to create a more personalised shopping experience.

Lighting also helps to convey a unique identity and elicit genuine customer emotions. Bespoke lighting solutions such as Neon-like LED derivatives are often used to express individuality, and maximise impact; with neon-style signage also engaging hearts and minds without the challenges of traditional neon.

In the concept store, merchandise is arranged differently, with dissimilar products often displayed together. And, with keeping things fresh the name of the game, modular display structures  offer a virtually endless amount of presentation options – limited only by the imagination of the designer.


Textures such as wood, brick, concrete, and soft furnishings can also be used to appeal directly to the target audience.



In conclusion

So, what is a concept store? The good news for business savvy retailers is that concept stores are all about the ROI, so while concept stores may originate as one-off's, they usually result in improved long term financial performance. Indeed, while the concept store itself can cost more than a traditional shop space, by investing resources into figuring out what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to selling products and in store design, retailers can save money by testing the waters before roll-out. Perhaps even more compelling, once a best in class display solution is agreed, these can often be cost-engineered to deliver maximum bang for buck in the long-term.  

At Unibox, we transform concepts and ideas into a technical reality. Collaborating with retailers and design agencies we create attractive, engaging retail displays and environments that sell products more effectively. To find out more about how we can help you, contact us today for an informal chat.