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Design experts weigh in on the changing face of retail design

Design experts weigh in on the changing face of retail design

Interior design, Interiors, Middle East, Retail, Retail design, Technology, Trends

With consumer behaviour changing rapidly, businesses are relying on interactive design via technology to draw the crowds.

Despite the challenges facing the region’s retail sector due to an influx of e-commerce ventures – both regional and international, as well as the prevailing economic sentiments, the industry continues to invest in resources tailored to meet the demands of the digitally-driven shoppers. Interestingly, the brick and mortar stores are relying heavily on technology to reach out to consumers who are reluctant to trek it to down to shopping malls.

Offering a range of immersive, experiential services, brands are harnessing the power of technology to create an alluring environment for discerning shoppers.

According to a study by Ventures Onsite, a construction and real estate business research firm, the sector is expected to emerge out of a slowdown in 2018 and grow steadily through 2021 driven by the expected rise in population, international tourist arrivals and per capita income. It also cites government initiatives to encourage foreign investments and strengthen tourism infrastructure as an impetus to the GCC retail sector.


Shieseido store in Tokyo by Nendo Studio

The GCC retail sector projects expected to be completed is likely to be worth US$3,592 mn in 2017 and US$3,613mn in 2018. The latest edition of AT Kearney’s Global Retail Development Index – ranks the top 30 developing countries for retail investment worldwide – placed the UAE in fifth position.

But how is retail interior design addressing the shift in consumer behaviour and its impact on the design industry? The retail segment is driving strong growth in interior fit-outs, with the announcement of several mega mall concepts, and even smaller community malls, as well as extension of existing retail centres such as The Dubai Mall. Ventures Onsite says that international and local design and fit-out companies are expected to reap benefits from the retail sector’s growth, because of the increasing focus on consumer comfort in the market. Rapid urbanisation and high income levels are the other major factors enabling modernisation of retail outlets in the GCC. It includes incorporating leisure attractions within the malls.

The GCC retail interiors and fit-out spend is expected to be worth US$813mn in 2018, which is an increase from US$808mn in 2017. The UAE (US$451mn) is likely to register the largest interior and fit-out spend in 2018 followed by KSA (US$135mn). In August, 2017, Line Investment and Property LLC signed a contract to invest in, and operate, the Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre in the capital, and will spend US$11mn  (AED42mn ) refurbishing the mall. The Al Faisaliah District Redevelopment project in Saudi Arabia kicks off with a US$53.2mn refurbishment of the popular Al Faisaliah Mall.

Kollin Akbar, office director of Design International in Dubai, shares his insights on how changing consumer behaviour is shaping modern retail design

What are the new consumer behavioural factors influencing retail design?

The convenience of online shopping is a strong and developing trend among consumers, particularly the millennial generation.  Increasingly, consumers are adopting a mix of in-store and online shopping.  They either visit shops on the high street or in shopping centres to test items before opting to purchase the item online, or vice versa. This new approach to shopping is creating opportunities and challenges for retail architects.  The architects now must consider what would motivate someone to purchase in-store instead of online. What can we provide to consumers that they can’t get online?

How do you integrate other commercial components in retail centres such as food and beverage, cinema and spa?

Retail centres need to be focused on dwell-time and attracting people to visit them by providing a variety of offers under one roof and including options that are not available in online retailing. Nowadays, across most countries, dining and leisure are an increasingly important part of any retail development.

The right tenant mix is the key to a successful retail scheme. A few examples include, for instance, grouping the cinema anchor together with Family Entertainment Centre (FEC), where the food centre acts as a hub; this is critical as it draws visitors there specifically to eat, but also helps to capture their attention with other unplanned activities during their visit.  Clustering food service is another component of a strong retail strategy.  So, F&B should be clustered together in a food court, where the emphasis is on quick, casual dining while less time-bound, fine dining options should be positioned throughout the remainder of the centre, offering options to relax. This will help encourage customer movement and interaction and maximise cross promotion between food service and retail offer. Finally, the location for stores such as a health club or spa is optimised if the entrance can be positioned separately to allow access out of the standard retail opening hours.


Kollin Akbar

What are the significant differences between retail design in the GCC and elsewhere in the world?

The GCC is very attractive destination for architects and retailers.  With a growing population and high levels of disposable income, the retail industry is flourishing in the region. Analysis shows that lifestyle offers and the integration between retail, leisure and entertainment will continue to increase, playing a significant role in encouraging customers to stay longer in retail centres, thereby impacting overall spend. In addition, the luxury market in the Middle East is an increasingly mature market. In response to this, the retail centre should become a destination, with large retail spaces, including private areas, a convenient place to shop and relax, and able to provide comfortable space to cater for Arabic hospitality within a luxury and modern retail design environment.

What are some of the architectural guidelines which enhance retail design?

In retail, all spaces must be exploited and have a purpose. Streamlining circulation is important to ensure the customers can move easily within and between stores, guiding them from one space to another and providing opportunities for them to see product displays on the way, thereby stimulating them to make purchases.  Once the circulation is determined, other key factors must be considered, such as creating the right ambience or thematic presentation of the space. Choosing the right materials, creating a pleasant atmosphere through effective use of lighting, sound and visual merchandising will help to have a great impact on the customers.

How and what kind of technology do you reckon adds more value to retail design?

Adding an e-commerce layer to the physical retail store by allowing sales assistants in-store to have a live chat or video calls to assist online customers is one of the new exciting features. Moreover, augmented reality technology that allow consumers to review products, watch videos or pick up clothes and fitting it virtually is a growth area for the next few years and provides added value to retail design and architecture.

Tim Graveling, design director at well-known British firm Dalziel & Pow, discusses how retail sector is increasingly reliant on cutting-edge technology so as not to lose out to online shopping portals

How has retail design evolved over the past few years?

Retail design has certainly changed a lot within the past few years. The most considerable change of all is the inclusion of technology and digital interfaces across all service related facets of the store. Shopping touchscreens are at the heart of the upgraded experience, such as the beauty lab where women are encouraged to try on new looks. The lab is situated right in the centre of the store giving customers a holistic view of the various brands, thus making it easier for them to pick brands they would like to try.

All merchandise display fittings have been designed while keeping the experience part in mind. We call it ‘experiential retail’. For example, at Lifestyle, home fragrance floor display unit has presenter top over which Reed diffusers are attractively displayed inviting customers to smell and experience the aroma.


Tim Graveling

Additionally, pictorial visual elements which include top five beauty products also interact with customers while making them aware of bestsellers in stores. Lastly, product descriptions provided on and beside merchandise help customers make a more informed shopping decision.

What are the some of the most important components in retail design and how do they influence operations from both the outlet’s point of view as well as the consumers?

One of the biggest concerns for every store retailer is the store layout. A well-designed spatial layout can contribute to a positive experience, which results in the kind of shopping behaviour a retailer wants to achieve.

However, currently lots of stores tend to build on traditional and repetitive designs for their store layout, resulting in outdated store layouts. Some of the key areas to focus on are aisle design and shelf design.

We speak to iGuzzini’s technical director, Sergio Padula, about the evolving role of lighting in retail design

What is the impact of lighting in retail?

Artificial light plays a crucial role in our lives and in our daily activities. In particular, what defines the retail sector is the so-called light experience, seen as an element of corporate branding. The perception, the colour rendering and the sense of well-being, have a considerable impact on the behaviour of the customers and consequently, the design choices and product selection appear to be significant factors. In the retail sector, artificial light is an extremely effective tool to increase and improve sales performance.

The design of a lighting system cannot ignore the objectives of energy efficiency. Reducing energy input can be a double advantage. Together with the economic results, reducing energy consumption means also reducing the environmental impact to provide a positive image to the customers. With the advent of LEDs, the enormous potential concerning the energy savings was immediately clear. This feature is now widely recognised by the market which has begun to perceive its advantages also in terms of controllability and related applications.

Flexibility and dynamism can be considered as two of the most interesting peculiarities of LED technology. LEDs are characterised by the easy regulation of the emitted light flux and offer the possibility of multiple variations in colour composition. This feature, especially in retail, contributes in creating lighting scenarios to guide customers through a sensory and emotional journey, redefining the layout of the spaces without substantial changes.

In 2012, iGuzzini launched the Laser Blade, the first linear recessed lamp with an invisible source, capable of emitting a circular, homogeneous, soft and comfortable light. The product has been welcomed by retailers as an ideal solution to add style to the environment.


Sergio Padula

What are some of the ways lighting applications can be used to enhance retail design?

Lighting design, together with interior design, has become a tool to recognise a brand among consolidated brands or create an identity for an emerging brand. In a time in which the phenomenon of online shopping is growing, stores use light to communicate their authenticity, and create an emotional connection with the consumer in an immersive environment. The flexibility of the system, the possibility of light modulation effect, the miniaturisation of the luminaires, the visual comfort and high colour renderings are the most common requests.

The needs vary as the identity of the retail varies. The more exclusive the shop is, the more emphasis will be put on accent lighting, with high contrast factors and the flexibility of fixtures for frequent set-up changes. In a high-end shop the light is set as in museums, in a visually designed way. In less exclusive shops, the focus is on a general and more uniform light which is able to simulate daylight and enhance the variability of the products displayed at different times of the day.

Modern technologies such as li-fi can contribute to the creation of lighting systems which can positively influence the physiological parameters and the psycho-attitudinal preferances of shoppers.

Austrian lighting firm, Zumtobel, uses modern technology in lighting design, which it believes, is intrinsic to retail concept of the future

It is a truth universally acknowledged that lighting is an important tool in creating shop concepts. Lighting helps to create atmosphere, evokes emotions, serves as a brand differentiator and navigates to “that piece that you have been looking for so long”.

The right lighting in a brick-and-mortar store can help businesses have the power to sell the most mundane things or to ruin the best products ever made.

However, the future is shifting towards an omni-channel shopping experience, with the physical shop being just a part of a customer trip towards a sale. If in the past the digital and physical shopping ran parallel roads, now the retailers are trying to integrate digital media into the reality setting.

Customer expectations are continuously increasing: shoppers want to gather as much information as possible online before heading to the store, so the retailers are turning away from simple showcase of the merchandise to creating experience centres where the customer can be well entertained.

The rise of shops comprising a sales area with a café, recreation or playground, a mini-mall, if you like, where customers can indulge themselves in different types of activities is the answer to this challenge.

Another way of attracting customers is by creating a lifestyle spot, a place which customers would like to be associated with – it works well with subcultures, and is best played by one of the forerunners of this trend, Diesel. It is an innovative and somewhat radical label, synonymous with careful attention to detail. The Diesel collection focuses on denim for men and women, incorporating unique details across a range of over 20 different models and 30 different washes that sometimes is difficult to describe online. It should be touched, felt and experienced.

Where does lighting stand in all this shift towards digitalisation? It is precisely the tool which creates depth, enhances texture and affects the mood. Limbic studies indicate various customer groups exhibit different moods, which is being built into retail design.

Designers are employing high quality lighting that has a unique, and at times, playful element to it. Lighting also needs to be flexible and be able to highlight individuality of retail concepts. An example of such a product by Zumtobel is Diamo Gimbal (pictured left and above). Its adjustable lighting heads and a modular concept make this compact luminaire extremely flexible. It offers flexible options to play with colours and create unique concepts with the choice of black, white, copper and brass finishes.

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