How to succeed in retail design – the client’s view

Richard Newland, former global head of design and development at HSBC, looks at how consultancies can stand out to clients in the fast-changing retail world.

Richard Newland

Over the years I have conducted more pitches for physical space than I care to remember.  As a result I have also had the privilege to work with some amazing people and organisations that have delivered fantastic work. I have also met some incredibly talented creative people who have missed out on work because they forget why they were there – in most cases this was because they had not understood or played back the brief, or in one vivid case I remember, ignored the brief entirely! 

This is nothing new I hear you cry. The relationship between client and agency has always been like this – and therefore there are always going to be examples of this. True, but the stakes are now being raised, as the cost pressure on physical space from all the other channels is now enormous. For me, the agencies that will stand out and thrive in this new environment will be the ones who not only understand, digest and play back the client’s brief – but also understand the commerciality of the project better than anyone else, other than perhaps the client. 

Clients with physical space are being disintermediated at a faster than ever rate. In plain English, this means they are being cut out by the direct channels. Therefore the role of a consultancy is to add value by demonstrating expertise in understanding the changing role of physical space in the overall channel mix. That physical space, which was traditionally at the centre of a business’ channel strategy, is still important, but no longer dominates and it is now part of a number of elements in the customer’s journey to buy. 

Unlike some sceptics, I do believe that physical space has a bright future. Just look at the recent story of the ultimate direct player – Amazon – opening a retail unit.  However its role is changing faster than ever and therefore the need for organisations to respond and innovate is huge.

For designers this presents a fantastic opportunity to deliver ‘creative leadership’. This is about how they recognise that they can add value and help their clients with subject matter expertise beyond the creative. This means helping them strategically align and redesign their physical space within the overall channel mix and ensuring the commerciality of the project. 

The success, of course, will be defined by whether you have delivered a ROI for the client, which in these fast-changing and interesting times, is more essential than ever for physical space.

Richard Newland is managing director of Customer Expertise, and most recently Global Head of Design and Development at HSBC Holdings PLC.

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  • Brett King November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am


    Optimizing the space or right-channeling is critical in the financial services space, but I’m skeptical that this change can occur in time. I think the inertia around the typical teller space is too strong, and effectively most branches will just continue to decline in day-to-day activity, with a few exceptional brand stores (akin to Apple or Amazon stores) that emerge as core customer centres.

    The problem is not what to do with physical channels, the problem is being too reliant on physical spaces for acquisition. While Apple have great stores, more than 70% of their revenue comes through digital channels, and that is increasing over time. Customer’s might walk into the store to buy their first iPad or Mac, but they don’t buy Apps in the store.

    Banks need to think similarly.

    Brett King
    BANK 2.0

  • Eduardo de la Cabada November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am


    Totally agree with you, the relevance of the physical space will always be there, just with a different role in a multichannel enviroment.

    People like to see people.

    Congrats for your article!

  • Clive Grinyer November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Nice piece. I’d like to see designers make greater use of digital in physical spaces, you can mash up the best of online convenience and choice with the superior service quality from physical when you think of “digital spaces”, but designers seem quite myopic when it comes to technology…

  • karen morton November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Some lateral thinking like Mercedes Benz and their ‘experience’ centre is fantastic and the interaction with people and new car brands for the whole family. Pop Ups are also adding a fun dimension. So what next? that’s what we all have to think of – we can follow and create pretty places -but leading the way in new approaches to ‘space’ ……that’s exciting.

  • Debbie November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am


    An interesting and thought provoking article- I agree with you that physical space still has relevance but should be treated as the valuable commodity that it is and be made to work effectively for consumers and clients.
    I also thought your observations re agencies and pitches were spot on – a plea to all consultants please read the brief and think about what we want to buy rather than just what you want to sell to us!


  • Richard Ash November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It is always hugely useful for agencies to understand exactly what clients look for and Richard has provided some excellent insight here.

    I also agree that physical retail space will still be around in years to come and the opportunity will be to consider how digital can be incorporated to ultimately drive ROI.

  • exponents November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

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