Off the rails

In-store retail interiors are changing to meet the demands of clients and their customers.

Warehouse is focusing on “Blondie” chic in its latest retail campaign, with geometric print clothes on a vivid red backdrop. Ra Ra skirts have been seen on the catwalk, Soft Cell is reforming for a couple of gigs in London this month and BBC2 is running a whole series of programmes focusing on the decade. Yes, the 1980s are back.

Does this mean the return of stark black and white, minimalism and mirrors in retail design?

In the fashion and interiors world, trends like these come and go on a regular basis. But in retail interior design it is superficial to focus on this. What matters to retailers is that design responds to strategic trends, those that affect the retailers’ marketplace and bottom line.

“It is all about personalising the experience to the customer and analysing the customer’s behaviour,” says Chris Dewar Dixon, managing director of retail design consultancy Four IV, which is developing a new retail strategy for department store chain Bentalls and the retail scheme for Harvey Nichols’ Edinburgh store. “It is no use looking at the interior design at Mango and saying, ‘Let’s base the design on that’. You need to understand the customer and brand positioning. Creating strategies for the business and the design comes off the back of it.”

Matthew Bright, managing director of brand experience company Journey, agrees. “Consumers are becoming increasingly individual and have their own take on a brand or product. The brands and retailers that succeed are those which best understand and reflect their consumer, talking to them as an individual, understanding what the customer wants from the relationship with the brand and then tailoring the product and environment to suit,” he says.

“This promotes the need for organisations to recognise ‘markets of one’: no longer can retailers take broad general views of consumers, classifying groups in demographics and so on. What matters is the psychographics – how consumers think and behave.

“Retailers need to embrace technology to make their spaces mercurial, orientating the space around the consumer, not the product. This turns retail [design] on its head: no longer is a retail space about making the product the hero, it is about making the consumer the hero,” adds Bright.

To accommodate this, retail design is becoming timeless, discrete and flexible, with greater use of neutral colours and more emphasis on texture. Shades of white and other pale colours, the use of glass, stone floors and satin finishes are coming to the fore.

There is increasing sophistication in the use of in-store merchandising fixtures and the treatment of graphics. This is particularly evident in department stores, where a number of product categories and brands fight for space.

“Brand owners want to bring their brand alive and reserve their spot in store,” explains Martin Law, chief executive of Fords Design Group. “They are putting money into making themselves known in retail. But the key is not to be too outlandish and to fit into the overall store format,” he adds.

The result is more use of display materials that are in harmony with the overall scheme, such as frosted acrylic and matt finishes.

With retail sales growth expected to be at a lower rate than recent years (3 per cent a year for the next couple of years), low price inflation, an extremely competitive marketplace and poor customer loyalty, retailers are demanding more from their interior designers. It’s no longer enough for retail interior designers to specify materials, lighting, heights of concession areas and create ambience. They now have to be strategists who understand both the retailer’s brand positioning and customers, plus turn this into tangible deliverables.

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