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Research & Insight

Empathetic Retail Environments

Reading time: 2 minutes

Is designing Empathic Retail Environments key to unlocking truly inclusive brand experiences?

Sir Peter Bazalgette, author of “The Empathy Instinct,” asserts that as the world's population expands and people face challenges such as poverty, war, and complex social interactions, empathy becomes the antidote to address these issues. This statement and Bazalgette’s book have sparked our interest: could empathetic environments enhance retail experiences and help everyone feel comfortable and welcome? And if so, why and how can we achieve this?

Evolution of Retail

Retail has evolved from traditional shelves and rails to immersive brand moments, where the product itself is the experience. With the help of smart solutions and new technology, we now have the opportunity to create smarter, empathetic, and adaptive retail spaces that cater to each customer's needs, promoting true inclusivity. But do customers actually want this? Why are empathic environments essential?

The Importance of Empathetic Environments

Empathetic environments are crucial because approximately 15% of the population experiences some form of disability. In the UK alone, people with disabilities and their families have an annual spending power of £274 billion, while globally, disabled individuals have an annual spending power of $13 trillion, which increases by 14% each year. Additionally, 15-20% of the population is neurodiverse, including individuals with dyslexia, ADHD, and autism.

“In addition to designing places to accommodate our diversity in form, size and physical ability, there is also a profound need to design for neurological difference”

Jean Hewitt, Buro Happold, 2022

Designing for Inclusion: The Mind and the Built Environment

Designing responsive and empathic spaces should be a top priority. It was only last year that the first-ever BSI standard, PAS 6463 Design for the Mind, was published, providing guidance on neurodiversity and the built environment. This guidance expands upon conventional notions of inclusive design and addresses sensory considerations such as lighting, acoustics, flooring, and décor.

Key takeaways:

01 Consider how your retail spaces can adapt and be programmed to meet the needs of different consumers. Design with this intent and ambition rather than consider it as an afterthought. 

02 Explore how new and emerging technology can be used to personalize users' experiences and create more empathic retail experiences.

03 Consider neurodiversity and ask yourself if the retail offer you are designing meets the needs of Hypersensitive and Hyposensitive individuals.