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John Ryan

Understanding What Store Design Actually Means

The nature of the design process, and who does what, is changing, and retailers and agencies need to be clear about these new roles

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Increasingly, one of the hallmarks of “store design” is that relatively little pure store design is actually involved.

Instead, a chat with most store design consultancies reveals that the endeavour in focus is, for many, understanding shoppers and their habits and acting on this information.

Practically, this means looking at layouts, ranging, deciding what to do about online and, to an extent, how you can bring all of these elements together. Nowhere is this more the case than when a retailer decides it’s time to revamp a store portfolio.

The point of departure is looking at the shifting shopper landscape and making recommendations about what might be done. Look at it this way: Today’s design outfit is more strategy and a good deal less working out whether to go with Corian or veneer, wood or wood-look. That bit is now frequently the preserve of in-house design teams, many of whose members have been recruited from design companies.

So with a new year stretching ahead of us, are we likely to see much radical transformation? Almost certainly there will be fewer shops and their assortments may alter, but massive structural change or spanking new shops? Unlikely. When the economy’s tricky, there’s too much at stake to “push the envelope” hard, as far as retailers are concerned. On this reckoning, if design consultancies can come up with “strategies” that get shoppers through the doors, then they will have merited their fees several times over.

There is, of course, the matter of being able to spot a good design company, but you have to hope that this is second nature for retailers that have been around the block a few times. There can be little doubt that 2018 is going to be a tough year, but there are still grounds for cautious optimism, providing the changing nature of what store design actually means is grasped in the current context. 

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John Ryan is a journalist covering the retail sector, a role he has fulfilled for more than a decade. As well as being the European Editor of VMSD magazine, he writes for a broad range of publications in the U.K., the U.S. and Germany with a focus on in-store marketing, display and layout, as well as the business of store architecture and design. In a previous life, he was a buyer for C&A, based in London and then Düsseldorf, Germany. He lives and works in London.

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