From oversized lollipops to millennial pink, Retail Week explores how retailers are winning in the social media space.

In the digital age, it is no longer enough for a store to simply stock and sell products. It needs to be a place for memorable experiences.

With a new generation of always-connected shoppers obsessed with documenting – and boasting about – their lives on social media, a store is only as good as the Instagram post it inspires.

More and more retailers are catching on to this notion, creating ‘Instagrammable’ backdrops, with must-snap interiors and props in the hopes that consumers will share their experience with their social followers.

Retailers that are winning are ones with attention-grabbing colour schemes in popular colours such as millennial pink, neon signs and slogans, and novelty decorations. Specific selfie mirrors are also an added bonus for social-savvy shoppers.

Initially the domain of Gen Z-focused brands, heritage retailers are now taking note, redesigning their stores with a new type of customer in mind.

“Instagram has become an increasingly important factor as the role of the store – especially flagship stores – has evolved considerably,” says Harper Dennis Hobbs executive director of retail consultancy Jonathan De Mello.

“Stores are no longer purely evaluated on the profit they generate, but also the brand equity they build and ‘halo’ they create for other channels, in particular online and wholesale.

“Given this, ensuring the brand portrays itself in the best possible light in order to attract its target customer, is key. Retailers need to persuade customers to engage with the brand, creating ‘moments’ they can encapsulate through Instagram and other social media. This enables them to enshrine the experience perpetually and moreover share it with their peers, who are also likely to be target shoppers for the brand.

”Creating such moments through store design is now an imperative when designing flagship stores in major retail hubs around the world.”

Retail Week picks out five brands that should be applauded for the Instagram-worthy stores they have created.

Glossier’s pink dream

Digital-first brand Glossier has become a fan favourite in the beauty world due to its ‘no make-up’ make-up look.

Its signature colour, labelled as #millennialpink or #glossierpink, covers both its Instagram account and its stores – a colour so iconic that customers use the hashtag when they see it elsewhere.

Its New York flagship store, opened in 2018, is only the second permanent location for the brand, which largely uses pop-ups to create hype and exclusivity (it still makes 90% of its revenues online).

Aimed at the millennial and Gen Z consumer, the colour scheme of the store is immediately recognisable as Glossier’s, with the soft hues of every element of the store designed to be the perfect backdrop for an Instagram post.

Glossier, NY

The store also has a mirrored room with human-size tubes of the brand’s standout Boy Brow product, created entirely for customers to take selfies in. The writing on the mirror and tubes is even backwards to appear the right way round in mirror photos.

Glossier founder Emily Weiss describes the store as “adult Disneyland”, where customers are encouraged to interact with the space rather than simply shop.

All products are laid out with such precision as to be designed for the perfect Instagram shot, and they are all testers, ready to be tried out in the abundance of mirrors.

Glossier, NY

All products are laid out with such precision as to be designed for the perfect Instagram shot, and all are testers ready to be tried out in the abundance of mirrors.

Kseniya Sharin, strategist at global design consultancy Fitch, says: “The store is visually alluring and designed to the attractive millennial pink aesthetic. It’s also a physical destination for digitally native Glossier, and consumers are excited to be a part of this and share their experience.

“Retailers should review what unique, differentiating aesthetics and experiences can bring their brand to life in new ways for the consumer. Consider the format strategy, define the role of stores versus pop-ups, and create opportunities that can bring together your community of online followers through uniting shared experiences – as Glossier’s #Glossiercommunity does”

Sharin points out that lighting is crucial for stores of this nature as the space needs to be designed to look good through the lens of a camera. She recommends testing taking photos in the space to ensure the lighting does not impact picture quality.

Missguided’s millennial playground

From neon signs, mirrored pillars and ceilings to bespoke mannequins, the bright carnival theme of Missguided’s Bluewater store has many novelty elements to inspire shoppers to take out their phones.

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The store opened in 2017 following Missguided’s, now closed, first bricks-and-mortar in Westfield Stratford City. 

Gen Z decor favourites such as pineapples, flamingos, unicorns, mermaids and doughnuts feature heavily, boosting the Instagrammability of the store.

Organised by theme, clothing is situated in changeable, related “sets” – clubbing outfits, for example, sit in a neon-enhanced nightclub area.

The sets can be changed to represent each theme and create a different experience each time a customer visits the store. The hashtag #babesofmissguided plastered around the store also encourages them to share their experience online.

Missguided, Bluewater

Bespoke mannequins dressed as unicorns and mermaids, and props such as pineapples and flamingos, take inspiration from millennial decor favourites.

De Mello suggests that store designs made for Instagram need to be “bright, eye-catching and memorable”, ultimately using “anything that makes a good picture”. Missguided’s Bluewater store breaks from the typical fashion store mould, using vivid, kitsch elements to form a memorable experience in keeping with the brand’s in-your-face online image.

Hans & Gretel’s fairytale candy store

“Restaurants and food have always lent themselves well to photography, and restaurants designed with Instagram or social media sharing in mind have become increasingly popular,” says De Mello, citing sweet emporium and café Hans & Gretel as the perfect example.

Opened in Camden Market, London, in 2019, the dessert parlour takes inspiration from a fairytale gingerbread house, complete with giant lollipops and candy canes. Every element of the store, from the overloaded milkshakes and chimney cakes to the sweet-covered ceiling and character statues sitting outside the door, is entirely Instagrammable. Visitors are also encouraged to pose in the ‘Candy House’ and share the images online.

Hans & Gretel, London

While the theme immediately appeals to children, the fun design and imaginative desserts are also popular with adults – the store’s slogan is ‘for the child inside us all’. 

“Instagrammers are principally looking for a good backdrop for their photos,” says De Mello. “Providing this, without compromising the experience for those there primarily to shop, is important.”

By making the whole store into a perfect backdrop, Hans and Gretel is an Instagrammer’s fairytale.

Le Labo’s rundown apothecary

In comparison to the in-your-face offerings of other retailers, artisan perfumery Le Labo has favoured simplicity in its store design to produce a pared-back aesthetic that is suitable for a more sophisticated Instagram user. Exposed brick, wooden flooring, bronze fixtures and worn leather seating all reference a Victorian apothecary.

Le Labo

Exposed brick, wooden flooring, bronze fixtures and worn leather seating all reference a Victorian apothecary.

Launched in 2006, the brand has stores across the world all featuring the rustic, understated design. Each new Le Labo store location also has its own individual scent, creating an exclusivity and enticing fans to visit.

“Le Labo stores have a beautiful, old-school apothecary aesthetic distinguishing the brand from most modern-day perfumery stores,” says Sharin.

“Stripped back stores highlight the imperfection, the roughness of the original materials and the simplicity of the space; all in neutral tones that blend nicely on the Instagram feeds of most millennials.

“What makes the store Instagrammable, though, is Le Labo’s unique signature experience. Once a fragrance is selected, it is freshly prepared on the spot by a staff member. The final touch is a customisable label on the print of the bottle, where most people write their name or a special message. This level of theatre and personalisation make the process exciting and differentiates enough to share on social media with your friends.”

Sharin says that when brands create opportunities for consumers to get involved through personalisation they create a “deeper connection” with both the product and brand. 

Charlotte Tilbury’s majestic boudoir

Beauty guru Charlotte Tilbury’s eponymous brand now has six standalone stores which all have an Old Hollywood glamour theme. Nicknamed her ‘beauty wonderland’, the store aims to inspire shoppers to try out creative make-up looks in an immersive experience.

Charlotte Tilbury

Tilbury opened her first physical store in Covent Garden in 2015 and has since opened flagships in LA, London Westfield White City, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.

Red and gold accents litter the stores, including decadent gold chandeliers and art deco palm trees, all of which offer Instragrammable backdrops.

Mirrors with LED lighting also cover the walls to ensure well-lit selfies. Other photographable elements include a pair of 3D rouged lips with a lipstick between their teeth, and Tilbury’s slogan ‘Give a woman the right make-up and she can conquer the world’ emblazoned on the wall.

Charlotte Tilbury

The glamour-focused stores are in keeping with its luxury image and Charlotte Tilbury’s roster of Hollywood celebrity clients, giving customers a taste of the A-list experience. With areas made to feel like a lavish dressing room, complete with mirrored vanity tables and plush burgundy seating, the store appeals to female shoppers who value quality beauty products.

Further combining the online and offline experience, the stores include augmented reality ‘magic mirrors’ so customers can try on one of the make-up artist’s signature looks which can then be shared on social media.