4 Quirky Retail Concepts that Show a Glimpse of the Future

The future of retail merges entertainment with high-tech shopping experiences

Kindra Cooper

Future of retail

Yes, the younger generation prefers acquiring experiences over possessions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t shop. The average brick-and-mortar retailer, however, only allows them to do one thing, which seems counterintuitive to a generation raised on multitasking.

New retail concepts attempt to gel entertainment, experiences and retail under one roof using technologies that combine the best of e-commerce and physical retail, taking shopping trips from a necessary chore to an awe-inspiring excursion. 

Christopher Timmins is the director of responsive retail at Intel. He and his team work with retailers around the world to search for and incubate emerging technologies and trends that elevate the retail experience. 

At the Annual Retail Forum at Columbia University, Timmins shared four of his favorite weird and wonderful retail concepts that reimagine modern shopping. 

AREA15, Las Vegas 

Much-vaunted and slated to open by end of year, AREA15 is an experiential retail and entertainment complex in Las Vegas offering live events, immersive activations and art installations interspersed with storefronts. 

“This is storytelling at its best – unique experiences from pirate themes to light-up trees to finding your own adventure with retail wrapped around it,” said Timmins. 

Expect to see oddities like a 32-foot bamboo volcano, a stainless steel car by Las Vegas sculptor Henry Chang, a food hall and indoor and outdoor event space. At first blush, it seems vaguely templated from the Downtown Project – also based in Las Vegas – a “community-focused” micro-city combining work, shop and play founded by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh

Area 15Image credit: AREA15

AREA15, however, is much more focused on experiential retail, and doesn’t aspire to become a city. Its anchor tenant is Meow Wolf, a New Mexico-based artist’s collective specializing in immersive, interactive art installations. At the entrance is a towering, twinkling Japanese maple tree made from hundreds of thousands of LED lights.

Read more: Experiential Marketing - Creative Ways Brands Build Customer Engagement

Gentle Monster, South Korea

Known as much for its star-studded clientele as its outlandish store concept, Gentle Monster has capitalized on the art of intrigue. From the outside, its stores look like sculpture parks or art galleries showcasing modern art, daring passersby not to take a gander.

Gentle Monster

Image credit: Gentle Monster

The eyewear is displayed almost as an afterthought among themed sculptures and art installations that rotate consistently, giving customers a reason to return. The brand’s flagship store in Seoul, Korea, is housed in a converted bathhouse with a 1940s water station in the middle; its London store is even more inscrutable.

Gentle Monster

Image credit: Gentle Monster

“I walked into the store in London and it took me 10 minutes to figure out what they were selling,” mused Timmins. 

By seizing on our innate gravitation towards the bizarre and fantastical, the South Korean eyewear brand makes sure it sticks in customer’s mind without having to go the traditional route of the “seven touchpoints.” 

Dutch Bros., West Coast USA

This drive thru-only coffee shop catered to Millennials serves admittedly average coffee, but its customer service is making waves. They play loud, thumping music – hip-hop, rock, even classic Fleetwood Mac. 

“Everybody who works at the stores near me has a collection of weird tattoos,” said Timmins. “They jump out of the windows, they run to service you, they’re super nice and they have lines around the block.” 

Read more: How Consumer Psychology Can Help You Understand Your Customers Better

When the drive-thru line gets too long, staff run out the door straight to your car to take your order. 

Dutch Bros CoffeeOne blogger wrote about a Sunday morning visit when she was feeling particularly bleary-eyed. When the girl taking her order asked, “How’s your day going so far?” she mumbled about having a headache, hoping to head off the conversation.

The girl turned around and yelled at her coworker, “Make it a medium, extra whip! This girl doesn’t feel good!” She then wrote “Feel better, babe” on the lid of her cup with a heart and smiley face, and refused payment. Apparently, such stories of heartwarming humanity are common to the coffee chain.

In 2016, Dutch Bros. made headlines when three employees leaned out of the drive-thru window and joined hands to pray for a customer who had just lost her husband. The act of kindness was captured on a cellphone by another patron and went viral on Facebook. 

BingoBox, China

Pop-up stores are often lionized in the retail industry as a modularized, cost-cutting way for retailers to engage with consumers in their natural habitat, build relationships in-person as well as online, and offer weird and quirky experiences that hopefully sear the brand into customers’ memories.

China’s BingoBox stores are bringing the pop-up concept to convenience retail with their shipping crate-type stores. The modules are dropped by the street in areas lacking convenience stores, like college campuses, parks and residential areas. 


Image credit: BingoBox

“These are rolled out in dense cities where people can’t get very far and they don’t have much time, walk out of your office, walk in, take what you need, said Timmins. “Some of them are fresh food, some of them are all just packaged goods.” 

Did we mention that these stores are completely unmanned? Instead of employing cashiers and clerks, the store is enabled with self-sufficient technology. Each item has an RFID tag that can detect if an item has been paid for, and CCTV cameras monitor the store 24/7.

Read more: Zappos Head of Customer Research on Achieving True Personalization

In fact, the unstaffed store is far more successful loss prevention than a typical one, because each customer is personally identified by a unique QR code, which they must scan to gain entrance.

Thieves can be permanently barred from entering. Customers simply pick up items and place them on a checkout counter that automatically scans and tallies up their purchases. Payment is done through mobile payment systems like Alipay and WeChat Pay.