Design team: Wendy Saunders, Vincent de Graaf, Fuzi He, Lea Li, Carter Chen, Maggie Li, Liat Goldman, Amanda Peng, Peichin Lee, Jiaoyan Photography: Jerry Yin
Harmay’s first brick and mortar store offers shoppers a thought-provoking antidote to its customary virtual visits. With over 1 million users online, the brand now aims to cultivate experiences online and off. AIM designed the shop, located on Anfu Lu, to innovate what e-commerce looks like. It was an opportunity to design for people and platform, creating a beautiful, visceral space to experience how what is done behind a screen can still be deeply felt.
Our online culture and constant clicking means the purpose of physical shopping is up for debate. Digital market places and online brands have disrupted the way consumers experience traditional retail. Transactions in China’s online shopping market totaled some 4.7 trillion yuan in 2016 – that is a lot of shopping! So with more and more consumers moving online to do their purchasing, why would a successful e-store set up shop in the real world? What would inspire someone to leave the comfort of their sofa to buy something readily available online?
When Harmay, a successful online cosmetic brand, approached us to design their very first offline store, we asked ourselves these questions. It was an intriguing idea, and the kind of unexpected thinking we embody at AIM. How could a physical space support the e-platform, and vice versa? Harmay’s entire brand essence is online shopping, and they do it very well, representing over hundreds brands of niche beauty products and cosmetics – a perfect retail product for online, but with a shop front, both retailer and consumer have a real opportunity to engage.
We decided not to reinvent the wheel, but instead provide a look at the cogs in the machine. The physical store is dressed up like a warehouse, but located in a prime spot in the Former French Concession – perhaps a bold choice among all the cute boutiques, but Harmay was ready to do things differently. Like stepping through the online looking glass, the design mirrors the core of the business, and brings shoppers directly behind the scenes.
A transparent polycarbonate panel was used for the façade. Layered over the old façade, it gives the shop visual distinction from a line of other boutiques on the street, but also provides a visceral experience to the familiarity of shopping online. There’s a clean, precise warehouse feel within, even laboratory-esque.
Our idea was this space operates as the heart – the ‘kitchen’ of the brand, you could say. Harmay still very much exists online – but this is the place where everything happens, the center of the action. While you select a new face wash, compare perfume bottles, or try on a lip color, others are doing the same – online orders stream in, products chosen and carefully packaged by real people, and sent out into the world. Shoppers in real life become part and parcel to the online process, too.
A spiraled metal staircase takes shoppers to a small space on the second floor. Up here, the vibe is more lounge and leisure than buy and sell.
A blush palette mixes with a handmade vintage carpet, eclectic furniture, and electric blue stools. As a space for events and new product launches, it’s an ideal spot to swap beauty tips, or test drive new items. If the first level takes you behind the scenes of a known experience, the second floor puts you back in your comfort zone.
It’s refreshing to find physical incarnations of a life lived in transactional clicks, and equally refreshing to know the human experience behind them. The design reflects these feelings, and brings to life the virtual experience with a sophisticated, people focused place.