Designers on post-lockdown retail design: “All our givens have been taken away”

With the latest announcement from Boris Johnson suggesting some shops could reopen as early as next month, the focus turns to how retailers can deliver safe but recognisable in-store experiences. With this in mind, we asked designers what they think the future of retail design will look like after lockdown.

“With increased awareness in disinfecting, social distancing and food safety in general, consumers will continue to see new governmental regulations and retail standards on these matters as business as usual. To what extent remains to be seen, but design will play a major role in helping to drive consumer behaviour.

The customer journey could be adjusted with touchpoints such as more permanent disinfecting areas, contactless self-serve areas, extra space for navigating through aisles and partitioning may be built into retail spaces. Permanent floor stickers or decorative tiling may help navigate customers through aisles in an orderly fashion. Shields and screens to protect workers may become a more permanent fixture, especially at check-out. Hygiene signage will become standard, which will be an opportunity for brands to speak directly to customers using their ownable tone of voice.

As food-hygiene will continue to be a major concern, technology will accelerate to offer more frictionless shopping in-store and new business models around click and collect will emerge. Cueing and collecting models like Argos will become more mainstream. Retail spaces like Amazon Go, where a customer’s movements are tracked and captured by cameras and automatically charged, contact free, upon leaving the store will start to be offered more widely.

Value brands that already stock smaller ranges at low cost will also win out, as consumers look to more affordable options.”

– Lynn Harris, associate 2D director at CADA Design.


“The new rules of retail will mean our first baby steps back will be governed by protocol, rules and special measures. However, having been indoors and isolated, our communities want to connect and share experiences. It will be the innovative retailers who work out creative ways to engage people (at distance) who will stand out as remarkable at this time.

Retail buzzes from the energy of people, personalities and human connections. The first steps back will be challenging but we just have to get really creative about how we spark people’s imaginations, delivering beyond just the expected. We’re going to see extreme agility in retail formats, integration and design from contactless pick-ups to AI basket shopping and interactive queues. Above all, we love retail to entertain us, to light up all of our senses. I’m excited about how we’ll learn to adapt in this new era where all of our givens have been taken away. It will mean innovation, change and the acceleration of retail’s new identity into a new world.”

– Howard Sullivan, YourStudio.


“At Brinkworth we create spaces for people to have physical experiences. In this time of isolation, the importance of human interaction in the real world is brought into sharp focus. This is something brands cannot shy away from, retailers need to rebuild a conversation with their customers. This conversation doesn’t happen naturally on the traditional ecommerce platform but does within the physical store. Intelligent retailers will find ways of replicating this level of contact on their digital channels to create an integrated, seamless engagement in both scenarios.

Similarly, the imminent challenge of social distancing in a retail space will need to be looked at afresh, and each brand must take responsibility for their staff and customers’ well being. We foresee brands changing up their retail journey to create fully flexible, adaptable spaces which can be altered at any given time. We created this style of concept for luxury retailer Browns in their East London space through a grid like system that allows subdivision of areas, creating diversified merchandising and activation opportunities as well as pop-up brand installations. This results in an adaptable, engaging experience for the customer and retailer.

In my PhD I concluded with predicting how in the future, contemporary apparel stores will no longer just exist as a space displaying product; they will become living, evolving spaces that breathe activity for its community, communicating beyond their walls. This, more than ever, feels appropriate in how retailers may adapt long term to our current reality. Retail stores must look to design from the outside in, utilising the building to create functional spaces that are almost telescopic in the way that they can be manipulated to be bigger, smaller, more intimate or more open.”

– Adam Brinkworth, CEO of Brinkworth design consultancy.


“It’s a difficult one really – I think a lot of people are getting carried away with thinking that life will never be the same again. Scientists seem confident that they will have a vaccine within 18 to 24 months so in this case the virus will basically just be on another list of things we can get vaccinated against. We don’t think this is necessarily going to be about permanent changes but what we can do to adapt the design to work in the immediate future.

‘Shoppable’ has become even more important not just for sales but from a health and safety point of view. You don’t want customers picking up items that they don’t end up purchasing. Looking at the way we design retail spaces to allow items to be viewed easily without having to pick them up will be key over the coming months.

We also believe retail technology will be a big winner coming out of this. We are paying particular attention to gesture/voice controlled self-service devices, as opposed to touchscreen, and in-store apps where people can pay for or pre-order the items they want from their own device. We feel that the adoption of these technologies will be greatly accelerated due to the current situation.”

– Cameron Fry, founder of Liqui Group.


“It’s largely the technology aspect which we’re dialling up to facilitate different forms of interaction within the retail space. Minimising social contact is going to be one of the largest factors in this ‘new normal’ environment, so we’re looking at ways this can be sympathetically incorporated. The ‘Internet of Things’ is not new; however, brands may now need machines that ‘think’ more like sales assistants and can perform those functions like collecting information, processing payments, and even delivering product. Vending machine-style displays have previously been used creatively by brands from Chanel to Missguided to dispense self-service product, however the technology exists to have machines pour you a coffee, select the correct size and then have it delivered to your home without you ever needing to come within 2m of another human being.

Of course, in this environment it will be important to balance a sense of experience so that retail brands don’t become sterile factory floors. Here amplifying brand content and activations can remind consumers that the brand stands for a more than the product on the shelf. This can be through interactive visual displays, including VR/AR but also through compelling visual merchandising. What will be clear is that retail brands will be re-entering a fiercely competitive market, so we need the balance between brand identity and commerce functionality to translate into sales. Having concepts which are modular, adaptable, and multi-functional will also help retailers modify their spaces as the guidance changes.”

– David Roberts, managing director of FormRoom.


“Simply put, I think there are two key factors at play in our post-covid world. Finance and Psychology. Sadly, Covid-19 has done a job on both of them.

The psychological hurdle will require big changes to consumer experience. They don’t have to cost a fortune but they need to be creative and fun whilst being safe. Brands need to adapt to not just make things bearable but to make authentic and engaging experiences that people will travel for and talk about. One silver lining we may see from lockdown is that older generations are engaging with technology more than ever before and this may increase engagement with in-store digital experiences when restrictions are lifted. On the flip side, younger generations have never been more saturated with their virtual world and that pent-up demand could be directed squarely at the high street.

Along with the obvious distancing measures, we are working on concepts for the gamification and reward of these changed behaviours. We also expect to see welcomed growth in AR, VR, RFID and other technologies to further link our digital and physical worlds. Above all, I think brands need to be sensitive, congruent to their values and think long term in these difficult times. Let’s hope this tragic pandemic can be the catalyst for positive change.”

– Matthew Anstiss, Etch Creative.


Do you have any predictions for how retail design might change because of social distancing? Let us know in the comments below.

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