The Retail Design Expo is an innovative event that took place on 9th and 10th March 2016 in London at Olympia and is now considered to be the leading showcase in Europe for retail design, merchandising and shop fitting. MiND Magazine was excited to fly into London to interview leading experts in retail design and creativity; Joanna Galanis VM and Display Director at Browns, Paul Wilkins Head of Visual and Store Design at Space NK and Andy Turnbull Global Creative Principle at New Look.
With degrees in interior design, fashion and photography and a past career as editor for various publications in Greece and London, Joanna Galanis has now been with Browns for five years and enjoys the challenge of creating luxurious windows, keeping in budget and always being on brand. She is also known for her commitment to promoting new design talent, two years ago Joanna organized a competition, The VM Student Awards, for interior design students coming out of Kingston University, Wimbledon and St Martins. The competition was a huge success and a great experience for all students involved, particularly for those in the winning team Kingston. The press got involved in the event and as a result most of these talented students received placements or job offers, in fact to this day Joanna is still working with two of them. The Retail Design Expo then approached Joanna last year and launched a similar successful scheme to promote retail design students, Joanna was delighted.
MiND Magazine was interested to hear from Paul Wilkins from Space NK, who was refreshingly honest on his thoughts for the survival and way forward for the physical store. Paul believes that although we have moved into a digital world there is still something tangible that needs to be maintained. Paul went on to explain that although the digital arena is heavily geared towards offering discounts, it obviously cannot match the service and experience that you receive in store. Therefore in order to succeed the physical store has to improve and excel in customer service; the approach to customers has to be inclusive. There has to be intelligent conversation with customers, to not just to sell to them and to keep an unbiased approach.
New Look is a fashion retailer that has a broad customer base. Andy Turnbull explained to MiND Magazine at the RDE that New Look is for all ages, shapes and sizes. There has been a rapid expansion of the company in recent years but there is still more to come. According to Andy “What we have in the pipe line will define us more. New Look is on the cusp of describing who we are and what we stand for.”
What’s the most frustrating aspect of retail right now in terms of design?
JOANNA: I would say the challenging thing is creating something in 3D, obviously all the measurements have to be right and I find that’s where I am a perfectionist. When you design on paper it is very different from when it is finalised and becomes a 3D window space.
PAUL: I would say the globalisation of retail because the joy of going to a new city, country and being exposed to new stores, new concepts, something different doesn’t exist anymore. You can go to London, Paris, New York, Milan and it is the same store with the same fixtures and lay out across the board. It has taken the fun and excitement out of the world of retail.
ANDY: The value of it. It’s amazingly difficult to offer value to something which is potentially highly subjective because everyone has an opinion, everyone is more visual now. The trick is to understand the outcome and then you set the boundaries for your creativity based on that outcome. If I think we should push the boundaries and the brand’s expression harder, we choose the obvious channel, the digital channel is well placed for reactive creativity because it is the most immediate. Through our digital channel we can frame how creative we are and we push much harder with the expression of how that creativity could exist. Then we get traction around the idea and we put passion around the edges of why it is really important and why it needs to be that creative. It’s almost like you have a scale that you have to juggle consistently to avoid that frustration ever becoming an issue. To avoid this frustration it’s important to put the right amount of time in the right place and then make that the place where the creativity will live more freely.
“Frustration gets you nowhere.”
What would you say is a common retail mistake?
JOANNA: I think I am very aware of our window space, our different brands’ identities, what Browns represents in a whole and I think sometimes other retailers, especially luxury retailers, don’t realise that. Sometimes they are off course when they are doing windows, it’s not on brand, it is not luxury, it does not reflect the brand’s identity and it is just one of those ones. Sometimes it is such a disappointment. They make the mistake of using the wrong mannequins and props to realise their concept. The positive one for me would be Harrods, they always represent their brand’s identity extremely well.
PAUL: I would say forgetting or not knowing who your customers are. I think sometimes brands and stores can become so wrapped up in what they are doing that they forget that ultimately their goal is to surprise, delight, intrigue and encourage a customer to purchase. If you don’t make that your fundamental goal in the way you approach creating, building, laying out and presenting your store, it will all go awry.
“Ultimate goal is to surprise and delight a customer to purchase”
ANDY: Thinking digital screens will sell you products is a common one. Digital is not a fad because it is part of how we live our lives. However, you wouldn’t buy a TV for your home and just leave it playing, you would be watching something because you will be wanting to be told a story. You have to generate content that is relevant, meaningful, and targeted that people will want to engage with. How can digital make the depth with how the product will be delivered more efficiently in a physical store? Maybe it’s more convenient with touch screens but as a tactile retailer what is it adding?
How can a physical store keep up with its virtual competitor, the internet?
JOANNA: Since Farfetch has taken over Browns they have focused a lot on the digital side. However, I think they are aware that it is extremely important to keep the shop as the luxury destination with exclusive pieces that you may not be able to get online, because the problem is the accessibility of high end clothing in mass. I think the best way of dealing with this is in-store because when you buy something online there is no way you can see and touch the fabric, try the garment on in an aesthetically pleasing environment with the assistance of personal shoppers and I think that’s what ‘a luxury experience’ is all about. By having a store you can’t eradicate that, you always need to have the luxury experience for the customers to touch, to see and try on.
“Important to keep the shop a luxury destination”
PAUL: I think it is about the shopping experience, surprising and delighting customers in a 3D retail environment where the customers can really experience the products, which they would never be able to do from a web perspective. However, I think there needs to be a lot of work done on how physical and digital stores become a whole 360 degree experience. For example, in the way click and collect has tied the two together. It should be seamless for the customer, there should different avenues and each one should be as easy for the customers to shop as possible.
ANDY: Our digital sales represent a significant proportion of total sales. Its growth but within boundaries of those limits. It will continue to grow but equally there is potentially a point where it hits a plateau, so we have to keep reinventing and looking for other channels that you can shop through. We thought the mobile would be a big deal in 2011, but it far exceeded what we had predicted. We are accessed by mobile by nearly half of our customers, it’s the channel of choice. Now do I think it will be 100%? Highly unlikely because it will hit a curve, however this curve will be because there is another channel, perhaps via an app, a shoppable Instagram, or a shoppable Pinterest for example.
What impact does retail, design and art have on visual merchandising?
JOANNA: I think it is extremely important, it is all about that. I collaborate with so many different artists, designers and illustrators, anything that inspires me and I definitely think it impacts the visual merchandising, retail space and the windows. For example, we are opening a new store in East London and in order to achieve that we have to speak to architects but, also shop fitters because the retail space needs to work. It is a really important element for the store and the windows.
PAUL: Fundamentally retail design and visual merchandising need to sit hand in hand. I think so often store interiors can be designed before the thought of how they are going to be merchandised, from the visual merchandising perspective and I think that should be concurrent. It is pointless creating a fixture without thinking about how it is going to be used or how the products will be displayed on it. That should work hand in hand and be all part of the same piece. I think incorporating artistic movements and perspectives, anything that is within the public consciousness is really an intelligent way of marketing a new product because it is already in the customer’s awareness, relating to the colour, shape, print, then it helps to make what you are presenting current and in some way inspirational to the customer.
ANDY: Visual merchandising by definition is the pure representation of the products to make it appealing to customers. From our point of view visual merchandising is the representation of our product range but there are some contributing factors. We might merchandise around it with props, or images but essentially they are trying to build a very simple fluid picture of what that trend is or what that block or department is. Sometimes the communication is very exact, but often within the visual merchandising it is more how we present and visually articulate what was in our designers or buyers mind when they put that range together. Art, sculptor, design all the things you see and are inspired by are features in it.
How would you describe the future of retail?
JOANNA: I hope it doesn’t all get digital and online. I don’t think it will, I am thinking more technology wise it will change, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. For example, Burberry has already introduced technology into their stores. I just don’t want stores to be completely eradicated that would be very sad. It is important to remember with technology you have to also think with a luxury mind, not just digital.
PAUL: It is all about creating that special experience for the customer. Digital has become a very easy way to shop, you only need to pick up your phone and you can buy something and if that’s what you are looking for you can’t get much better. For customers who don’t need help or are looking for the best prices they can find it online. There is also the delivery aspect to consider, maybe in this point of time we haven’t advanced as quickly as the rest of digital as things can sometimes go wrong here. I think retail from a physical perspective in the development, is all about customer service, not just about the relationship with people, customers and sales associates, but how the store is laid out, how it is presented, how intriguing it is, how enjoyable it is, all very important factors to create that differentiation between shopping online and shopping in store.
ANDY: More expressive. Seamless is the big deal, if you are able to find a way and express what your brand represents through every channel, then that is seamless. Retail is one of those big channels but brands aren’t multichannel, customers are. There should be a way when you can be physically linked to a store, they know you have shopped before perhaps through a digital receipt and they can ask how you are getting on with the clothes you have bought. For example, we were debating whether tills will still be useful. Technically you don’t need a till to transact and we don’t necessarily need to give you a bag now because you can bring them. From my point of view it’s how we deliver, that’s what we are passionate about, how do we make space? Make an object tangible? I want people to find out about our brand and to understand we have the same passion now, as had when we first started on a market stall in Taunton.
“Brand’s aren’t multichannel, customers are”