Shoppers are becoming more demanding, at the same time as retailers are tightening their purse strings. Along the high street, from interiors to fixtures to lighting, between the luxury, middle or value systems, shoppers want something new. And retailers must offer differentiation. ‘This is changed from ten years ago,’ says Four IV managing director Chris Dewar-Dixon, ‘when the white box was standard and effective. But due to this former trend, the market is saturated with lookalikes.’
Zara and Mango have understood this by cleverly peddling luxury clothing at a budget price. In regard to general retailers, Selfridges prefers to showcase self-determined brands, while Harvey Nichols offers a more holistic brand experience.
But this need to differentiate has come at a time where retailers are much less willing to spend cash. So something new has to be delivered at an affordable cost. In times of recession, a retailer is, for example, both less inclined to experiment with design and more willing to foreground their product.
RPA director Nigel Collett points out that there is a trend to make the fixture as unobtrusive as possible. He cites Stella McCartney’s boutique in New York as an inspiration. Here the design features clean textures drawing heavily on natural, non-expensive materials such as glass, which allow the designer gear to take centre stage, as opposed to using wooden tables and timber fixtures that can block a customer’s vision.
Retailers can feel that innovative display systems are a cost, not a benefit. That they will not help the store sell products, but they will help keep design consultancies in business. So any supplier of an innovative retail display system has the number one priority in proving that their new system will give a return on investment.
Dewar-Dixon says a design can never give a cast-iron guarantee of a return on investment. The secret does not exist. ‘I would be a rich man if it did,’ he says. But if a designer can understand brand proposition and do his or her homework, such as thorough market research, this will pay off. ‘Design must never be bigger and bolder than the product,’ he says. ‘Customers are educated and can spot flippant overdesign. They believe this is a way of overcompensating for a weak product.’
Pied a Terre, Sloane Square, London Design: Raylian
Like Harvey Nichols, high class shoe retailer Pied a Terre makes a stark contrast between the functional and the ornate. In its new 70m2 boutique, which has opened in the Duke of York development in London’s Sloane Square, Raylian has used clear and acid yellow glass display cases, next to lush, baroque-style sofas, upholstered in rich purple velvet. There is also a large gilt-framed mirror that monopolises the back wall.
Like Harvey Nichols and Thomas Pink (opposite), Pied a Terre is making the effort in display systems to create more transcendent lighting in-store. In the Manchester Harvey Nichols most fixtures are internally illuminated, and often back-illuminated to project a glowing, shimmering atmosphere. This means the light source is concealed and gives the product the illusion of being suspended in animation.
In Pied a Terre a halo lighting effect emits a concealed fluorescence that, according to Raylian creative director Nick Short, ‘gives the impression the products are floating off the floor’. At night this glows with, what Short calls, ‘a boiled sweet’ effect. This is similar to Orange’s phone stores that glow in the orange colour at night. This could arguably reinforce the brand, or be a distraction to drivers.
Although Four IV says that it likes to use a mixture of natural and artificial materials in Harvey Nichols, Short prefers to keep it natural. This means lots of glass and mirroring the blank canvas of the walls. The floor uses flat grey Italian tiles in a flecked concrete, which glints in the different lighting effects.
Short wanted to give the product prominence. The shoes have a panoply of colour, using vicious reds and blues. To separate from the rest of the shop, he believes setting them against a floor to ceiling glass panel would be the best idea.
Harvey Nichols, Manchester Exchange Square Design: Four IV
Harvey Nichols is not afraid to project a sophisticated image in-store, especially in its latest incarnation designed by its retained consultancy Four IV. The new 6000m2 store continues the retailer’s onslaught of the high-income wallets in Britain’s major cities, which has seen stores opening in Edinburgh and Leeds. Four IV managing director Chris Dewar-Dixon is aiming for a ’boutique hotel’, with each concession embedded in a strong, all-encompassing Harvey Nichols brand experience. This differentiates the store from its competitor, Selfridges, whose ‘house of brands’ approach allows the individual brands design independence in the general retailing space.
Dewar-Dixon wants to bring out the glamour of Harvey Nichols with chrome and polished stainless steel and dark timbers and lacquers introduced to capture a luxurious, old monied Hollywood ambience. ‘I want to bring out the sense of being a member of a club,’ he says. This includes a bright, polished womenswear back wall in a yellowish brown/black colour and a gold lacquered staircase.
But there’s still a sense of utility. Dewar-Dixon says the key to all retail systems is flexibility, something Collett also prizes at the Thomas Pink store (below). He wants to encourage weekly visits, which means fixtures need to be changeable on a weekly basis to keep customers enthralled.
In the spaces between the boutiques, Four IV uses large mirrors that lean against the walls, with a steel frame, these are efficient (they reflect light) and useful (they allow shoppers to strike a pose). This is also part of the retailer’s demand to engage customers at e
very level, which means stocking no products that are out of reach. Shelves, for example, are rarely beyond two metres tall. In the personal shopper areas, there is a video-link-up with the other stores in the chain, so customers can shop at the entire Harvey Nichols estate at once. There are also touch screens with lots of information in the new dental spa, which has teeth whitening and Botox on offer.
Thomas Pink’s Pink Woman concession, Selfridges, London Design: RPA
Traditional retailers are looking to create a transcendent environment in-store as an effective way of merchandising. In the larger part of its estate, shirt retailer Thomas Pink has used wooden fixtures, such as cubbyholes, to display its neatly folded products, and sometimes used the aromas of starch to create a freshly laundered illusion.
This environment has a traditional feel, with a lot of carpentry and inlaid tables. But now, to display its new ladies fashion range in Selfridges, design consultancy RPA is using glass throughout. RPA designer Nigel Collett says, ‘We wanted to give the impression the product was floating.’
This is created by building complete display units out of glass, except the horizontal steel rail where the clothes hang, which combines to give the impression that the products are suspended in space. The previous design was effective at retaining a traditional and heritage brand from a company that started out in the 18th century. But the new design throws open the sightlines of the store to highlight the products on display. ‘We wanted our customers to make contact with the product,’ says Collett, ‘to make the shirts more tactile and approachable for the female consumer, because the feel of a product is a major part of the purchasing decision.’
RPA has also taken an element of the Thomas Pink logo, the pink stripes, and used them on the wall, which is wrapped in fabric. This device serves to echo the logo, rather than reproduce it, giving a softer representation of the Pink brand.
The consultancy has tried to make the womenswear department more ‘consciously light in terms of its feel’. But it does say some of these elements could be translated into the men’s department. This is especially pertinent as men now take more care over the quality of the fabric of clothes they are looking to purchase.