Retail detail

As June plays host to the In Retail exhibition, CID talks to retail designers and display specialists to find out where the future of store design lies.

A predominently white scheme by Deco is brightened by the use of coloured uplighters.
A predominently white scheme by Deco is brightened by the use of coloured uplighters.

Today's consumers are increasingly demanding when it comes to retail design. With the huge variety of global brands in the malls, customers are looking for a strong brand ethos and an interior design that reflects how much the brand values them and their custom. The retail forum is the perfect vehicle for companies to connect with their consumers, after enticing them into the store through marketing and advertising campaigns. Jeff Kindleysides, co-founder of Checkland Kindleysides, UK-based brand consultancy, explains: "It's the final challenge at the end of a sometimes long and expensive route of consumer seduction."

Kindleysides says that consumer demand has been greatly affected by the freedom to shop and research via virtual stores online: "This has meant that stores have to deliver much more than just product, consumers want expertise, entertainment, high levels of comfort and service and choice." He adds: "Therefore the design of retail interiors has become a more complex multilayered mix of elements that deliver consumer experience and product clarity, in environments that are unique."

Even companies such as financial institutions, insurance brokers and banks who specialise in selling intangible products to its customers, have now realised the importance of providing a design-led space that more resembles a retail store than the boring box-like branches of old. John Rabone, from Dubai-based Evolution Design says that the major shift in the way retail design is viewed is how: "The Brand has become a "Lifestyle" and how customers relate and aspire to certain brands. Some stores have even gone to the extreme of selling nothing but the Image, Audi did this a couple of years ago in London, where all the store had to offer was pure iconic imagery that reinforced the image and Audi-Lifestyle."

Flexibility and evolution are two keywords in retail design. Rigid spatial layouts and immoveable display solutions are outdated. Continuously changing trends and themes mean store concepts have to be easily adaptable and compliant. Rabone adds: "Designers are looking closely at how drastically one can change a store layout so almost overnight it can appear a new store fit-out has taken place, basically the store is becoming a stage-set."

The personality of the brand, and the lifestyle and aspirations of its target consumers are integral in creating a successful store design. Much more than specifying the flooring, lighting and décor decisions, retail designers also consider visual merchandising, the architectural form of the design, display areas and store front including windows. Kindleysides says that in many projects interior designers also create a graphic identity for the store, which includes in-store signage, product information graphics, image photography style and overall colour palette that extends from interior detail to marketing and brand recognition.

Jean Habis, HDD Interiors says: "There has been a great deal of progress in retail design in recent years. Up until five years ago, Dubai still felt like it was behind in terms of design but with the influx of international brands and designers it can now be compared to Europe. The quality of designs and the use of materials and the concepts have all greatly developed. Clients are now more aware of what their shoppers want from a store. They conduct their own market research and have strict guidelines in order to maintain their own branding."

Rabone adds: "The design process for a store is dependant upon whether the store forms part of a new concept or an existing roll-out programme where the design is already cast in stone according to the Brand Guidelines. We always start by undertaking a thorough critique of the clients existing stores (if any) at the same time identifying the projected customer profile, market position and potential competition."

Display solutions

A vast amount of research has been done on consumer buying habits, and companies offering display solutions have responded by creating systems that appeal to both customer and client alike.

Research has shown that consumers will be more likely to move around a store from left to right, or in a clockwise direction. If the circulation paths are blocked or badly laid out then customers will buy and therefore spend less. Tensator's electronic queue management system, eQ, is a popular way to enable queues to flow seamlessly, while the In-Q Merchandising turns ‘dead' retail space, such as queues, into a sales area with barrier infill panels, slot in shelves, baskets and hooks for impulse purchases to tempt the consumer.

It has also been agreed that the ideal height to display products is 1.5-1.6 m, and it has been proven that merchandise below 0.5m or conversely, above 1.9m are beyond the easy reach of consumers and are therefore less likely to sell. Shopkit Designs works with cable, rod, glass, metal and wood to create versatile display systems. It has recently launched two new products: the mobile or fixed Theme Screen and the smaller and less expensive version, minimicro.

UAE-based Retouche has over 16 years in the retail display industry and it is promoting its Caliente and Fashionista range at this month's In Retail exhibition. The geometric Caliente wall units and display modules are designed to emphasise the merchandise rather than the system itself. Ensuring the store design and displays do not take precedence over the merchandise is a priority. Visplay International, part of the Vitrashop group of companies specialises in flexible merchandising and has stressed the importance of Invisible Design®, which ensures the display system doesn't detract from the products on sale.

Rabone explains: "Everyone's always looking for new and different ways to display products, lighting has traditionally played a major role in this aspect. Gone are the days where a couple of spotlights were enough, now we have LED colour changing lights that can have moods and colour themes set by computers to change at any given time." He points out that sound is an area that is also being experimented with in stores: "With the use of sensor detector messages, sound effects and VM props can be brought to life - it's just a question of how far you want to take it. We're currently working on the Toys R US flag ship store at DFC where we're using sound, animatronics and lighting to create the atmosphere and take the kids into a different world."

Daniel Cornelissen from German firm Wanzl, says: "Flexible/adaptable systems with interchangeable components and accessories, for example Wanzl's Wiretech & Alutech systems are becoming popular." He agrees with Rabone and cites digital media as a definite area of growth.

Cultural considerations

The Middle East differs to elsewhere in the world as the majority of retail outlets are based within large shopping malls so designs have to encompass large interior façades, and usually, no natural light. In terms of the mix of cultures in the UAE, Cornelissen, Wanzl, says: "Signage and way finding must be accessible by multiple language groups; shop fronts should be in Arabic as well as in the language of the brand, which can affect the façade considerably."

Additionally, the privacy of female shoppers is a key consideration, as Cornelissen explains: "In countries like Saudi Arabia you have to create closed areas that are not visible to the public - in some cases whole shopping centres are only accessible by ladies."

Rabone asserts that consumers in the Middle East generally have higher expectations than their European or American counterparts: "We will provide better finishes than we'd expect in the UK, for instance we've used marble flooring, gold leaf ceilings and polished plaster in some of our Marks & Spencer stores here in the UAE which we'd never be able to do in the UK. Things like this are expected here and to some degree why shouldn't they? People need a reason to come and shop in Dubai so we should be providing an experience to make people come back over again."

Trend predictions

The key to the future of retail design lies in strengthening the connection between retailer and customer in more immersive ways. Kindleysides explains: "We are seeing stores perform wider roles where entertainment, education and discovery meet. Trends towards environmental issues are racing up everyone's agenda, with sustainability being at the top, from how we design stores, to the transport infrastructure to make sure there is a sustainable future for the location. The use of large-scale graphics and ingenious ways of interacting and sampling products are increasing. This tactile engagement in store is set to play a key role in capturing the imagination of the consumer and increasing sales in the future."

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