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retail design expo

Retail Design Expo 2017: highlights

We caught up with Retail Design World’s editor Matthew Valentine on the highlights, trends and innovations emerging from this year’s Retail Design Expo.

Q. The Retail Design Expo is packed full of new innovations. Which emerging trends really stood out this year?

If you really boil it down to basics, this seems to be the year when retailers truly grasped the idea of using customer insights to inform their store designs. Almost all of our seminars about store design included an element of research into what customers wanted and how they use spaces and products, upon which important design decisions were based. This is an issue that retailers have paid lip service to for years, with varied degrees of commitment. Perhaps the tough current competition has convinced them they have to do it for real now, or perhaps they are finally getting to grips with the huge amount of data available. Either way, better shops should be the result.

We are also seeing a substantial move to incorporate new consumer technology in mainstream stores, and not just in big flagships. Some of it is very exciting (though some seems to be a solution looking for a problem). It isn’t necessarily the flashiest technology that will yield the biggest change in behaviour, and new technology can actually serve to highlight failings in traditional retail skills, such as service. So there will be a lot of interesting lessons over the next couple of years.

And retail storytelling seems to be better understood than it was. When the phrase was first introduced retailers took it very literally, commissioning displays about how trousers were stitched or oranges farmed. There is far more to storytelling than that, and it can be far more engaging than a lesson about manufacturing techniques or the struggle of the company founders.

Q. Which business inspired or surprised you the most?

British Land revives the shopping centre experience for families

It’s a sector, rather than a single business, but I think shopping centres are taking major steps towards making themselves more relevant to shoppers in the future. It’s a classic retail design challenge of keeping shoppers interested – and one that is also facing supermarkets and many other retailers which have large store estates.

And I was massively impressed by the entrants and supporters of the Retail Design Student Awards (sponsored by ITAB). The standards get higher every year, and it provides a fantastic start to some very promising careers. For established brands such as Adidas, Pret A Manger and Majestic Wines to set briefs for design students shows a real long-term commitment to design.

Q. Can you share a few personal highlights from the innovation trail?

Sensape’s in-store retail experience

I liked the modular approach of the winning entry, Sensape, which combines AR, VR and customer recognition to create a sort of Minority Report in-store environment. It can be tailored for use by retailers or brands and – if the content shown is as creative as the technology – it could be immensely entertaining and personalised. I also liked some more conventional products, such as illuminated shelving from Pixalux, which neatly solves a very common problem.

Q. Your speakers covered a vast range of topics, but if you had to pick two stand-out insights from the conference, what would they be?

retail design expo
New interior of Lloyd’s Clapham Junction

I am almost always annoyed when I have to enter a bank, as they all seem to be designed to support the grey carpet industry and little else. So I was fascinated to hear how Lloyds Bank is redesigning branches as places that are better to dwell in – this is either going to become a dynamic sector over the next couple of years or we will all start banking online, all the time.

And it was a revelation that opening a SEAT car shop at Lakeside has led to a massive boost for conventional dealerships of the brand. I had expected the store to steal sales from dealers, not increase them.

Q. Are you excited about the retail industry’s future?

Yes, more than ever. Designers thrive on solving problems, and with changing consumer habits and a bumpy economy they are going to have a lot of opportunities to do that.

About: Matthew Valentine, Editor, Retail Design World

Matthew is a design and marketing journalist with over 20 years’ experience. He has worked at Design Week, Retail Week, In-Store and among others.

Image credits: © Retail Design World


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