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Thinking creatively: embracing 'new retail'

Christmas is coming and the retail sector is feeling more confident. As footfall and sales continue to rise, finally retailers are seeing a return to growth. According to The Office for National Statistics (ONS), the boost comes from shoppers worried about potential shortages this Christmas, yet after the last 18 months, it’s also clear that consumers want to embrace the spirit of the festive period more than ever this year.

Whilst the transition to digital retail during the pandemic is set to stay, OPEN Media predict that 67% of shoppers will be shopping both online and in store this season. It’s not surprising then, that Retail 2022 – a report by The World Retail Congress - found that stores will continue to play an increasingly varied role for retailers and will remain the driving force for the sector. In the same report, the Pets at Home Group Chief Executive said that he expects their stores to become all the more significant in the years ahead – somewhere for “more than just shopping” thanks to the success of their growing pet-care services strategy.

Responding creatively to the changing high street

The pandemic forced many retailers to become more agile and this has been a positive outcome. The senior leaders we work with are bravely and busily embracing experimentation and we’re enjoying responding creatively to their ongoing challenges.

Our retail branding and interior design work for clients supports the rapidly changing high street landscape. For many (independent retailers as well as the larger chains) it’s a picture of consolidation and experimentation. Our clients are investing in their digital platforms but are also finding exciting opportunities for instore development. With the current vacancy rates there is a good choice of new sites along with plenty of short-term leases. These two factors combined facilitate offer and service development, the testing of new concepts, and the ability to trial new locations.

Pop-ups on the rise

Pop-up stores are growing in popularity and are great facilitators for experimentation. But their store design is key - just because they are temporary, they shouldn’t look thrown together! They still need to be impactful and on-brand.

For example, Hamleys festive pop-up store opened at Westfield London recently and it’s an all singing, all dancing environment which promises to offer ‘the very best in magical experiences’ for families. Apart from cashing-in on the Golden Quarter, Hamleys will no doubt also be experimenting with new in-store strategies to inform their permanent flagship operation that is due to open at Westfield in Spring 2022.

Size matters

Unsurprisingly, the Retail 2022 report also found that 52% of retailers polled are planning to adjust their store portfolio, with 23% wanting to open more physical locations. Interestingly, only 8% of them want to reduce the size of their store estate.

Our clients too are experimenting with store size and footprint, like the innovative and bold example of Homebase, who have trialled condensing some of their DIY service offers into small formats in order to access a high street footfall. Whereas agile independent Blondies Kitchen, have been able to take advantage of small format opportunities and shop-in-shops, to grow their brand and target new audiences.

Location, location, location

Location has always been critical for retailers but post-pandemic we are witnessing the rise of local shopping. Retail 2022 found that 49% of retailers are planning to open on local high streets while 26% are still interested in opening in big city centres. For some time, a localisation strategy has been working well for Waterstones and has certainly helped their recovery since reopening – according to MD James Daunt their “local shops, the market town small high street shops, have boomed”.

IKEA’S takeover of Topshop’s iconic Oxford Street flagship is another interesting response to the ‘follow the customer’ approach. Whilst this city centre store will apparently focus on home-furnishing accessories, IKEA also plans to showcase its full range of furniture for home delivery, therefore bringing city centre convenience and choice to its customers.

Blended retail

Pop-up or permanent, large or small, retail environments now need to blend the digital and physical experience for customers. Even so, this isn’t always easy to achieve when many retailers are still developing their digital infrastructures. As a solution to this problem, we find that by building in flexibility and future-proofing store designs it’s possible to support our clients’ digital goals. We do this through an iterative, design development approach that can be rapidly adapted as new digital initiatives come on stream.

Most importantly, we help our clients to deliver a customer-centric design that focuses on the best possible consumer experience. Bringing the brand to life through strong and immersive storytelling and great customer service is more critical today than ever before. As long as the brand is consistently represented across both physical and digital channels, the instore experience doesn’t always require a high-tech response.

When down-sizing stores, however, the challenge lies in presenting an inviting capsule collection that is still representative of the brand. In these cases there is most definitely a need to deploy digital tools like QR codes or interactive screens to allow customers and staff to explore the wider product choice.

Future focussed

Retail 2022 revealed that retail leaders feel excited for the future. There is a sense that the new found agility that helped their businesses survive the past 18 months will also help them to recover more quickly.

We agree that the pandemic has certainly proved that testing times don’t have to be negative. We are proud to be working with a range of retail clients who are alive to doing things differently - experimenting with new ideas and trialling new models.

Thinking creatively is second nature to us as designers so it’s exciting to be part of a sector that is embracing the sense of possibility as we navigate the new retail landscape.


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