Techno-retailing reinforces the case for service design

Lynda Relph-Knight

Vittorio Radice has likened current retail to the grand museums of yore. When at Habitat, and particularly as chief executive of department store Selfridges, Radice clearly saw his role as bringing culture to the masses and highlighting modern design classics as much as selling goods. And he did it with style.

There is an element of this thinking in a clutch of shops around London’s Oxford Circus. First, in 1999, came Nike Town, part shop, part customer research centre for the US sportswear giant. Then, in late 2004, we had Apple, towards the top of Regent Street – another US import bringing new ways of service-led retailing in a massive emporium created by Gensler with Eight Inc and lighting group ISP Design.

The Regency thoroughfare is rapidly becoming London’s unlikely technocentre with the opening of Nokia’s store, opposite Apple and also designed by San Francisco group Eight Inc (see News Analysis, page 9). It too is service-led, with laid back, techno-savvy staff.

There has been much talk of experiential retail design, which perhaps owes its origins to the seminal FAO Schwartz toy store on New York’s Fifth Avenue so beloved by interior designers in the 1980s. The ultimate examples in the technology field are the Samsung Experience centres in New York and Moscow, created by UK group Imagination as places where customers can play and experiment with the Korean company’s wares rather than buy them.

There is an element of this in the London stores of Apple and Nokia, though you’d expect any retailer to tailor its offer to its customer profile – take the dimly lit fashion boutiques of the 1960s. But the main thing in both instances is the emphasis on service and systems, which is great for customers and helps the retailer gain valuable feedback.

There’s a chance here for designers to get involved in more than just the décor. Meanwhile, someone should persuade Apple to kit out its team in prominent colours rather than the basic black worn by most of its fans.

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