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The growth of Internet shopping means retailers are having to find new ways to entice people back into the shops. A total shopping ‘experience’ is required, says Pamela Buxton.

Shortly after Gordon Selfridge opened his Oxford Street emporium in 1909, he hung an airplane in the centre of the store and the shoppers came in their hordes. But it is only in the last few years that retail has fully embraced the role that entertainment and leisure can play in attracting customers and increasing sales.

In-store cafés, catwalks, multimedia and games machines are all symptoms of this Nineties phenomenon, as retailers strive to provide not just the right things at the right prices, but a total shopping experience which reinforces the retail brand.

It is far more than a matter of leisure and retail coexisting as adjacent elements of a shopping mall. Barriers are blurring between the two as retailers use entertainment to sell and leisure capitalises on its merchandising offer.

Take the bookshop sector, which has transformed in just a few years. Instead of dissuading browsing, book retailers now actively encourage it, and the ubiquitous café, in Borders, Waterstone’s or Books Etc, is there to prolong the visit further. Even chemists, often the least imaginative in their merchandising, are diversifying to include services such as chiropody and a café (Boots), or alternative medicine and a juice bar (see Farmacia case study, page 20).

Above all, the new retail design is about creating flexible, stimulating environments that are completely geared towards the customer.

Department stores have been taking a leisure approach for years, according to Clive Vaughan, research manager at Verdict Research. “It’s not new – the whole idea of retail is theatre. But we’re seeing more of it, with more interactive technology coming into the stores,” he says.

One contributory factor may be that retailers, anticipating the impact of Internet shopping are improving their offer on the basis that they will need to provide an extra incentive to visit a shop if the same goods can be bought off a home computer.

Emma Rees, retail consultant with The Henley Centre, thinks the Internet and mail-order shopping will have a significant impact on how retailers present themselves. “It’s been happening over quite a few years now. Retailers are making much more of a concerted effort to offer more leisure-oriented functions within their stores. Also people have a lot less time to spend in shops so they need to be attracted into the store through other means,” she says.

Fitch creative director Tim Greenhalgh points out that the retail world has been transformed by the advent of the entertainment-friendly brand as retailer. “We are slowly seeing new format retailing delivered by non-retailers. We should all start looking not at our competitors, but at how someone else might re-write the rules. At the end of the day, finishes are not the issue,” he says.

His colleague, Fitch director David Fraser, cites other major influences as the impact of US-style shopping malls with entertainment as well as retail and the interactive-led store design of brands such as Nike and Swatch. These raise the expectations of shoppers and prompt retailers to raise their game in order to compete with the entertainment offers.

Conversely, leisure offers within shopping centres such as the vast Trafford Centre are picking up tips from retailers, with cinemas in particular capitalising on their foyer retail potential in partnerships with brands such as Ben & Jerry (see UCI case study, page 21).

At Bluewater, the huge shopping and leisure complex opening next year in Kent, many retailers are commissioning exciting new design concepts for their stores, including Boots, which has signed up a clutch of consultancies for its site.

Fraser identifies two dominant forms of entertainment within retail: in-store entertainment/leisure attractions in their own right and the use of entertainment to animate and inspire products and build a brand. The latter could be as simple as the mooing milk or clucking egg sound effects which are already used by some supermarkets. “If I’m getting that on Saturday morning at Tesco what am I going to expect in a shopping mall? It ups the stakes irreversibly,” he says.

Su Davies, a director of retail design specialist Carte Blanche, agrees that the entertainment/leisure element of store design is a hot issue for designers as their retail clients start to address the impact of e-commerce. She anticipates that this tendency will affect needs-based commodities but have less effect on tactile, wants-based items, which will be sold in ever-more exciting environments.

“You’ll be going to places where the whole experience is more fun and entertaining,” she says, such as Top Shop’s new Oxford Street flagship store by Carte Blanche. Here, a catwalk, café and games put entertainment at the centre of the store experience (see case study opposite).

In Harrods’ Men’s Designer Collections, Corsie Naysmith and Harrods Design Studio incorporated a series of seasonal films running continuously on 24 screens throughout the store by art and film directors Vaughan Oliver and V23. Even a new gift shop at the Trafford Centre – S F Cody’s Emporium designed by Dalziel & Pow – incorporates an airship-themed café.

Electronic shopping has given conventional retailers the impetus to look for new ways of keeping shoppers in their store, adds Jeff Kindleysides of Checkland Kindleysides. “We have to look beyond electronic gimmicks to keep people entertained… we have to search for something that brings to life the reason for the consumer to enter the store.”

The leisure offer is tied up with building a brand which appeals to customers within the store and can be applied outside the retail environment. Rune Gustafson, a director with 20/20, says it must relate to something inherent in the brand to be successful. “It’s bringing in leisure and entertainment and building a wider relationship with the customer and then outside the store – this might involve e-commerce and mail-order where retail can touch the customers without them having to leave home,” he says. It’s a challenging brief for designers.

“Part of the difficulty is to get the synergy between the product and the entertainment offer,” says The Henley Centre’s Rees.

The product can get lost in all of this, agrees Peter Kent, a partner at retail design consultancy Hosker Moore & Kent

“The trend is for retail and shopping centres to be leisure complexes for all-day family entertainment, but the danger for retailers is that, at the end of the day, it’s the product that counts. It worries me that people are being conned to go in [to a shop] because of a touch-screen service coffee pod when what the service retailers should be providing are excellent products.”

Paul Hadaway, a director of the Design Solution, is also sceptical about the longevity of some of the retail ideas imported from the US.

“Entertainment/retail is a nice idea, but unless it’s really driving up sales per square foot, it won’t work. Selling coffee costs in a bookshop and, unless it ultimately gives you more book sales, it won’t work,” he says.

Time will surely tell. But what is certain is that shoppers’ expectations have been irreversibly raised to expect far more than just shopping from their retail experience. And, with the prospect of further changes as a result of electronic and digital shopping, retailing will never be the same again.

Top Shop

Client: Top Shop

Budget: undisclosed

Opened: October

Design: Carte Blanche

Construction management:

WHD Construction Managers

Structural engineers: Price & Myers,


Mechanical and electrical engineer:

Cudd Bentley

Lighting design: Maurice Brill

Graphics: Bostock & Pollitt

Fashion catwalk: Supotoo

Audio visual: J Wallis

Billed as the world’s largest fashion store, Top Shop’s revamped Oxford Circus flagship store gives new prominence to entertainment within the retail arena.

Design group Carte Blanche incorporated a fashion show catwalk, café and video screens within the 7450m2 store with the aim of making Top Shop a ‘total shopping experience’ where customers will linger longer.

First Carte Blanche had to sort out circulation in the busy store. Drawing on its work for department stores such as Debenhams, it put in two new escalator banks to improve customer flow and give access to a sub-basement level – said to be the first to be used for trading in Europe.

To draw customers down to this lower level, Carte Blanche situated the catwalk in the sub-basement where it shows regular fashion displays, all filmed by the in-store video jockey and transmitted around the store on myriad plasma screens.

Alongside the catwalk is a hairdressing and beauty salon and the 120-seat TopCaf̩, conceived as a premium food offer, rather than the usual fast-food offer, and therefore requiring a full-service kitchen. Customers are seated after being given an order number, and wait for their food watching a live or filmed show until their number flashes up Рall part of the attempt to create a buzz for the shoppers.

Crockery graphics are witty to match the sassy image of the new Top Shop, with different size plates adorned, as appropriate, with wording such as slice, nibble and lick.

Views into the lower levels will soon be visible from Oxford Street down glass panels in the floor of the shop window display area.

Other recreations in the forms of games machines and table-football are currently situated in the menswear section, but will be moved around as new entertainments are introduced.

The design of the general retail areas had to give an ultra-flexible envelope to the merchandising to cope with regular changes in displays and events. But it also had to be bold enough to make its mark in such a lively arena. Carte Blanche set up visual links in the form of video walls and large scale graphic and photographic panels as the framework for the displays and designed a flexible merchandising system.

‘In that scale of space the average graphic or gondola dies,’ says project designer Tina Wright. ‘The whole thing is meant to be very theatrical.’

This includes a trio of ‘virtual reality fish tanks’ outside the changing rooms. These are scattered around the store and are designed to suit the way teenage girls often shop – in groups. Discussion over clothing is encouraged with huge changing areas large enough for groups of up to eight and enclosed in sheer aluminium walls. Outside the changing cubicles, colourful easy chairs provide more space to linger.The changing room accommodates 200 people.

Carte Blanche has just completed a second Top Shop store in Manchester’s Arndale Centre.


Client: Sanjay and Meenu Bhandari

Budget: undisclosed

Opened: August

Address: 69 Drury Lane, London WCArchitectural design: Barber Osgerby


Builder: Bridport Shopfitters

Project manager: Mark Alford Associates

Lighting consultant: Minds Eye 3D Lighting Design

Shelving: Vitsoe

Graphic design: Egan Melia

Alex ceccini

Alex ceccini

Architect and furniture designer Barber Osgerby Associates came up with a suitably serene and calming retail concept for chemist Farmacia, a chemist with a difference.

Set up by brother and sister Sanjay and Meenu Bhandari, Farmacia combines conventional and complementary medicines and therapies in a part shop, part dispensary and part clinic setting.

Customers can browse for health information from an on-line health database and enjoy invigorating organic juices formulated by medical herbalists at the adjacent juice bar. Herbs, fresh or from the herbal apothecary, are also for sale. Health checks and treatments take place in the basement treatment rooms.

Farmacia’s expansion of the conventional chemist format illustrates the shifting nature of health retailing, which is diversifying to combat rivalry from supermarkets: Boots now has a chiropodist service, and Superdrug is experimenting with an in-store hairdresser.

Farmacia is alone in its side-by-side combination of orthodox and complementary approaches. Such an approach called for a retail solution completely different to traditional chemists, which, possibly because of the limited time they are allowed to remain closed, have never been adventurous with design.

Faced with an uninspiring Eighties interior, BOA stripped it out and started again. Eschewing the conventional policy of placing the dispensary at the back of the shop, BOA sited it at the front, glimpsed from the pavement through a glass frontage which has been etched with the cross corporate identity designed by Egan Milia. ‘We wanted visibility but didn’t want people hanging around looking at drugs,’ says BOA’s Jay Osgerby.

Inside, BOA laid a floor of pebbles in resin which looks so much like a beach that some customers have taken their shoes off. Dieter Ram’s merchandising units flank the length of the shop to hold products ranging from basic toiletries to stylish Aveda giftsets. Above each shelf unit is the Farmacia identity on Perspex signs.

Stainless steel gondola units were designed by BOA and made in Bavaria, along with the sinks behind the juice bar and apothecary counter. Downstairs treatment rooms are clean and unfussy without being clinical.

The Bhandaris are looking at another central London site and have plans for further expansion.

UCI Cinemas Trafford Centre

Client: UCI (UK) Cinemas

Opened: September

Budget: 700 000

Interior and graphic designer: Fitch

Design team: Phil Wren, Peter Clayton, Markham Derbyshire, Mark Webb, Victoria Stafford, Andrew Catterick, Shelley Weyman, Hannah McHallick

Shopfitting: J Quinn (Shopfitting)

Just as retailers are embracing leisure and entertainment within their store experiences, leisure operators are maximising their own retail potential. Within the 600m shopping and leisure empire the Trafford Centre is UCI Cinemas’ first UK megaplex, designed by Fitch with 20-screens and a bumper foyer retail offer.

Fitch’s treatment of the Trafford Centre site is an evolution of its work for the cinema chain over the past three years. At a time of keen competition between cinema operators, the concept is rooted in developing the UCI brand to provide filmgoers with a memorable customer experience in addition to the actual film.

Appropriately, Fitch took its cue from the movie heritage of UCI’s film company parents Paramount and Universal, using iconography from some of their famous films.

‘We’ve started looking at [the design] through retailers eyes. We’ve taken on the mantle of entertainment heritage and we’re expressing that a lot more clearly,’ explains Fitch project leader Philip Wren. ‘The great advantage we’ve got, in terms of entertainment retail, is the stable of Hollywood images stretching back 80 years.’

A key consideration was the combination of brands within the 300-400m2 foyer, where Fitch used a backdrop of dark reflective surfaces combined with ‘articulated’ areas, giant poster montages, all beneath ‘The Drum’, a suspended series of video screens promoting new releases.

The design emphasis is on articulating customer choice through merchandising intended to reinforce the link between films and retail.

Sweets are taken out of the customary inaccessible plastic tanks and are given a new identity, Yabadabalicious, supported by images of Fred Flintstone and other friendly film characters. At the Ben & Jerry ice-cream concession, Fitch supplemented Ben & Jerry’s existing branding with images of key ice-cream moments in films such as Grease. After sales suffered because of improvements to the ice-cream merchandising, Fitch paid added attention to the popcorn offer. PopCorntastic is intended to be ‘brightly coloured and poppy’, with brightly lit bulkheads to manage queues and adorned with images of giant exploding popcorn pieces 1m in diameter.

UCI incorporates a new bar concept at the Trafford Centre, branded Hollywood and Vine after streets in Los Angeles, and inspired by West Coast terrace bars. Intended as a meeting place the bar is populated with life-sized cut-outs of Alfred Hitchcock and others and a Wordwall of famous lines from films to pass away the time when waiting for your friends to arrive. Like the youth-oriented games room, another element unique to the Trafford Centre site, the bar is considered a ‘stay-around motivator’ in an environment that blurs the edges between leisure, entertainment and retail.

Fitch is currently refurbishing UCI Whiteley’s in London’s Bayswater, which will re-open before Christmas.

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