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The value of successful retail design

Well, the results are in from the 2017 Retail Design Student Awards and I’m delighted to say  that two of the Huddersfield students I’ve been mentoring achieved Commendations!

Their truly innovative pop-up cafe concepts for Pret A Manger had all the ingredients for a great food retail experience. Sharing a glass of bubbly with the winners after the announcement, we were able to browse all the shortlisted entries on display at the Retail Design Expo. And I must say it certainly was inspiring to see all that new retail design talent in the making!

The brief from Pret A Manger called for new thinking to build on Pret’s already successful pop-up credentials, such as Veggie Pret. “Think pop-up and think again” the brief said. “Good food (and coffee) on the move, serving customers for anything from an hour to a whole week”.

For the students, this was a great opportunity to be exposed to an exciting retail design brief without the constraints of a budget. They could really have fun with it and let their creativity flow.

Of course in the commercial world, such retail design briefs usually come with an expectation of a positive return on the design investment – increased footfall, longer lingering times, more immersive experiences, improved sales. Critical and measurable goals that we retail designers expect to deliver on with every project.

“Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.” Steve Jobs, former CEO, Apple

I love this Steve Jobs quote because it truly sums up the value of good design when it is employed strategically. In the retail world, we can read in the press every day about the demise of brands large and small that have ignored the importance of customer experience and the value that retail design can add to the customer journey.

Sadly too many retailers still rely on their core products and services to compete. But it is simply not enough today. They need to consider how best to add value – something extra to help differentiate themselves from their competitors, to tempt new customers or even just to keep the ones they’ve already got.

Which? Names UK’s best-rated shops…

Interestingly, a Hi-fi specialist and a DIY retailer beat Apple and John Lewis this year in a recent UK poll by consumer group Which? of 10,000 shoppers based on ‘likeliness to be recommended’. Richer Sounds and Toolstation are certainly not household names but they were ranked joint first by shoppers for their ‘customer centred’ approach.

And two other better-known retailers, Harvey Nichols and Waterstones, both returned to the top five ranking after undergoing design and business developments that have firmly put their customers back at the heart of what they do.

The benefits of adding value through strategic retail design are indisputable. And for me, the Retail Design Student Awards are a great example of what happens when great creative talent and innovative retail businesses come together. We dig deep to see what works and what doesn’t, we think outside the box to resolve challenging issues and we combine creative thought processes to deliver breakthrough results.

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