Retail is changing, as the old emporiums are transformed into interactive brand flagships. Mike Exon takes a look at the latest contender, Nokia
The grand old stores of London are pretty used to being transformed by subsequent generations. Take a walk through the high streets of the West End today and you’ll see the shoots of Neo-Classical bravado all around.
Last year, Whole Foods Market reconfigured the aging Art Deco Barkers department store on Kensington High Street into the biggest organic superstore ever seen. And the old Victorian cinema at the bottom of Regent Street, with its grand domed ceiling and Modernist lights, was painstakingly converted into Habitat’s latest retail showpiece, with care and attention from Tom Dixon.
But look just up the road and you’ll find something else going on alongside all this reappropriation of the old. For a slew of technology brands have begun not just to restore the great shops they live in, but to deck them out inside for the age of hi-tech retail.
Back on Kensington High Street in November 2006, Sony Ericsson opened its flagship store conceived by Checkland Kindleysides. The mobile phone brands have been quick to cotton on to the need for customers to engage with products, and O2 followed suit last year with its JPDAdesigned concept store in the entrance of The O2 dome.
A defining moment for physical interaction retailing began on Regent Street in November 2004, when Apple and Gensler transformed Regent House into one of the most talked about retail spaces to date, on the site of the old Hanover Chapel. The Apple store may appear to do little more than occupy the 1898 retail masterpiece created for the mosaic-maker Antonio Salviati, but it has raised the bar in terms of personal service and enabling interaction with its products. In recognition, the Apple acolytes now queue round the block for a glimpse of the new core.
This year has seen a new contender enter the fray. Opposite Apple, the old Dickins & Jones store, that austere bastion of high Regency shopping, has been diced and sliced for the contemporary age with a raft of first-time retail brands ranging from Banana Republic and Armani Exchange to National Geographic.
All eyes were on Dickins & Jones last Friday, when the Nokia flagship finally unveiled a design by Eight Inc that it claimed would ‘set the bench – mark in technology retailing practice’. Situated just a stone’s throw from the company’s new Soho design studio, the store opened months later than scheduled because of a construction problem causing leaks in the roof.
Nokia UK general manager Simon Ainslie shrugs off the teething troubles and says, ‘We’ve had our niggles, you always do, but we’re really pleased with the results. This store is the pinnacle of our retail offer. It’s designed to be a beacon. In design terms, we have created a 360-degree exp erience for the guest. One that is not at all about the hard sell.’
The Nokia centrepiece will dovetail with its flagship stores in 18 other international locations, ten of which have yet to be secured. The intention is for these key stores to link together globally via feeds off LCD screens, while at the same time being given ‘local relevance’ on the ground.
Its modest entrance door is almost lost in the framework of the historic 170-year-old building, for the store is not wide despite being three storeys high. However, once inside it aspires to a futuristic Kubrik-esque quality with clean white walls, roaming ceilings, wood and granite floors, coloured LED walls and a glass central elevator that bisects the main stairs. The ground floor is given over to product and is broken into four main sections. Multimedia walls purport to the brand’s investment in screen design, with multimedia content from Tomato, Universal Everything, Phunk Studio, Graphic Havoc and Hanazuki.
‘We were appointed to head up content development for on-screen in Nokia’s flagship stores around the world, starting with its Moscow and Helsinki stores,’ says Tomato’s Jason Kedgely. ‘We worked together with Hi-Res and This is Real Art for about two years, sharing ideas and coming up with a whole range of designs, some of which were used, some of which were not. ‘
Moving Brands creative director Ben Wolstenholme explains, ‘As consumers we need more engaging experiences in shorter time scales using new technology to full effect.’ Moving Brands has been collaborating with Nokia over the past few years, working towards creating what it calls ‘a more expressive brand’ for an array of media, to connect the brand to people.
With this in mind, handsets on display are functioning and here to be played with. Tills are at the back next to a unit set up for its expensive Vertu range. Back upstairs the interaction kicks off in earnest, with a Discover section where customers book appointments with Nokia experts (like Apple’s Genius Bar), and a long barshaped Explore section, designed for classroom-style sessions. For Nokia it’s a big step forward, though there is more that can still be achieved.
There is still the possibility of fully integrating technology like Bluetooth and wi-fi into these retail environments, particularly when what excites 15-year-olds is real-time, wireless gameplaying. If we are approaching a moment where in-store screen design makes use of synchronised, live visual content rather than loops of recorded TV, it could require investment in editorial and prod uction facilities.
And all this will take nerve. But it points the way for a new type of retailing, in which physical interaction is considered at the start, not the end, of the design brief. The old edifices of Regent Street may look as good from the outside as they ever did, but inside we are only seeing the very beginnings of what could come to pass.
NOKIA REGENT ST
• One of eight global flagships
• Ten more to be announced
• Interior design by Eight Inc and Nokia in-house team
• Multimedia content by Tomato, Universal Everything, Phunk Studio (Singapore), Graphic Havoc (New York), Hanazuki (Amsterdam)