For years Stephen Abram has been advising libraries to watch entertainment technologies, because those techs will be mainstays for all of us very soon. And for years Jane and I have been looking to other public-facing organizations, including retailers, for ways to engage clients – markets – communities.  Like retail, we don’t see ‘non-users’, we see ‘potential users’.

So I was enthralled listening to Neila Fiorino and Donna Lawson of Fiorino Design, and Gerry Shoalts or Shoalts and Zaback Architects talk about Thinking Like a Retailer at OLA’s Institute on Library As Place.  Here’s my rough notes – with a few of my questions & comments.

Interesting, people used to become agitated after waiting 10 minutes; that’s now down to 5 minutes.  There’s a trend that people like to go into a physical showroom to try devices and “things” out, and will then purchase online or elsewhere, driven by price.

What successful retailers are doing: even e-shops are opening physical showrooms, including Ebay and Amazon.  People want an escape, an experience and something memorable.  Shops are working to make people feel they are the priority from the time they walk in the door  Friendly, helpful service is a must that extends to advice and demonstrations (Genius Bar of Apple Stores); Apple is extending their help bars that have stools – why don’t “reference desks” have stools?  People expect to be checked out on the spot, not have to go to a checkout desk.

Retailers also feature additional services that aren’t available online that encourage lingering and return visits.  LCBO with cooking demos and wine pairings and samplings – and their incredible, compelling, visually beautiful magazine.  Malls are introducing compelling guest services areas.  Technology augments the experience – with smartcards in shopping carts to access inventory, product information and access their own shopping history.

Leveraging the power of 3 dimensional space: Nike has done for years with their stores; Apple does it; Sony now does it; Starbucks is redesigning their stores; McDonalds has totally redesigned their spaces to appeal to different types of people and usages.  Body Shop and Teaopia use low tables clustered around products to experience them, while others simplify outlets in urban high-density areas to make the whole experience easier for people, with fresh food and ready-made meals.

LuLulemon free yoga class taught by local yoga instructor brings people into the store, builds loyalty with local yoga instructors

Best Buy has mobile stores and kiosks. Stores are also designing with mobile interiors to easily relocate merchandise, including retractable change rooms to make room for yoga studios, for workshops, seminars, etc.

By understanding the demographics of various markets, stores design for those specific markets emphasizing the local focus. Merchandising is arranged in “solutions” for customers, or by grouping different merchandise together to emphasis varying functionality and looks.  LuLu Lemon’s free yoga classes & special sessions with local yoga instructors builds local loyalties.

Social media is allowing people to become brand advocates; Nikeplus allows runners to share running info; Starbucks “my Starbucks” allows people to download their favourite Starbuck music, etc.  They are also trying to streamline the in-store experience with the online experience.

Going green: customers are rewarding sustainable companies with purchases.  At University of Western Ontario’s Kings University College, they found that students were SO interested in sustainability that it became part of the space renovation vision, and assisted with fundraising.  Stores are using lighting options to optimize daylight.


  1. Friendly helpful service that extends into advice & experiences;
  2. getting rid of the cash desks;
  3. emphasizing services that aren’t available online
  4. Click & collect services with personal pickup and delivery
  5. Using technology to free up staff with mobile devices to assist staff and customers
  6. Use design for “must visits” to steer and keep the customer in or draw them back; simplify the experience; use convertible, nimble spaces
  7. Curated products – build customer loyalty at the shelf with scalable relevance and the return of visual merchandising, with a constant sense of newness; tailoring the look, feel and merchandise for the local market
  8. Use technology for 2-way dialogue & collaboration with customers; help them shop, navigate & buy; seamless connection between their online and in store experiences
  9. Go green – store design, commit to only using sustainable resources, inform customer, use daylight harvesting

Gerry Shoalts: Creating Collaborative & Interactive Spaces: Examples of Retail Ideas Adapted in Libraries

He feels most people come to the library to browse – (is that true? Do we know that? Hm…..Ken Haycock – what’s the evidence?)

–        must continually maintain newness of materials displayed

–        keeping shelves low and being conscious of sight-lines

–        having staff greeting people, away from a desk

People brought up the challenge for libraries of constantly managing the new materials for display; but as other roles change (circulation, print management, etc), staff are redeployed and trained to manage merchandising.

Bloor Gladstone Library – tall shelves are around the perimeter; shelves in the centre of the space are only 3-4 shelves high to keep line of sight clear

–        building seating into shelving areas

–        integrating lighting into the shelving (new LED systems are energy efficient to do this)

Almere Library

–        Aimere Library has integrated lighting, seating and merchandise – a.k.a. library materials

Amsterdam Central Library

Amsterdam Public Library has steps for kids right up to the desk to talk with library staff; many European libraries have modules for personal spaces.

Amsterdam Central Library: LED lighting is energy efficient and can be built into shelving & stacks

Key points:

–  optimize the space available with mobile, modular, flexible pieces.

– stay the course – don’t be heavily influenced by those wanting this & that if it doesn’t fit with our vision and objectives