inspire design: architecture, graphics and retail design architecture, graphics and retail design Mon, 12 Mar 2007 23:21:54 +0000 en High fashion at Topshop Mon, 12 Mar 2007 23:21:54 +0000 Nick High Street retail goes High Fashion with the Kate Moss collection being launched in Topshop soon and on the front cover of Vogue no less. No doubt this will have them queuing round the block but ultimately it just makes Topshop better and the lower echelons of the Arcadia look dowdy in comparison. Now a Kate Moss collection in Bhs, that would be something.

Can design make a difference? Fri, 09 Mar 2007 10:29:10 +0000 Nick Recently we attended a new business meeting with a prospective client. Previously we’d sent them some of our marketing blurb material and had been rebuffed. however since then we’d had a phone call to arrange a meeting, so off we went.

This is a business that works in fashion retail and considering they’d invited us we assumed that the answer to the question at the top of this post was a given, i.e. of course design can make a difference, and rather a big one at that. The Design Council has even got a whole website dedicated to the difference design can make, even going as far as to say “Every £100 a design alert business spends on design increases turnover by £225.” That’s a huge fact, multiply that investment by a few thousand or hundred thousand pounds and it’s pretty good odds that some of that turnover will be profit, if it’s done right of course, and of course there’s the Design Effectiveness Awards. So, when in our meeting, we came across the question of design actually making a difference how did we answer? Well, not very well actually. We’d made an assumption that an invitation to meet meant this prospective client had an understanding of retail design (since that’s what we do) which rapidly became apparent that this wasn’t the case, even though his business is a reasonably succesful fashion retailer with a chain of 40 shops nationwide and a very succesful standalone e-tail business. We’d done our research, visited a few of his stores, spent quite a few hours going through his websites, even shopped on one of them, but what were totally unprepared for was the scepticism that we encountered about our industry and retail design in particular.

So although we know the answer to our initial question, can design make a difference?, perhaps the real question should be how do we educate someone who is so cynical about what we do? Do we go into a meeting armed with Design Council facts and figures? I suspect that’s not immediately going to win someone over, especially at a senior level. His reasoning was that they were doing pretty well thank you, why should we ‘add some design in’ or some ‘nice graphics’ as that sounds a bit risky.

Of course the answer is his business already uses design, the problem is it uses it very badly so his experience of using design is not a good one. It already pays money for bad design, and bad marketing material which is inconsistent and amateur. This in turn makes them look cheap and unauthentic, (as opposed to a true value proposition) and doesn’t make the difference to his bottom line that good design would. I suspect the cost of his bad design is roughly similar to the cost of good design but the true cost of the bad design might be his turnover is less than it should be, he alienates some customers because they don’t want to shop in his stores or when they are in them can’t find what they want, see the product well enough or find a way to purchase it. The longer term cost might be that soon his stores will look tired and dated, in fact some of them already do, and newer, fresher more vibrant and entreprenurial businesses in the same retail field will come along and take his ground, or even established retailers looking for a move into a growth market will take his profit margin and he won’t be able to compete because he won’t have a strategic vision that includes a joined up retail design strategy because he underestimates its importance.

All retailers know they constantly need to look over their shoulders as well as being able to reinvent, renew and constantly evolve which is why a good relationship with a design company that understands a business can be worth its weight in gold; quite literally.

Customer Service at Ilva Thu, 08 Mar 2007 11:59:46 +0000 Nick Last week Ilva won an award at the Retail Week Awards for it’s Customer Service. Well in fact the award was for Innovative Retailer of the Year and I quote “Crucial to the Danish Furniture retailer Ilva making its mark when it arrived in the UK last year was its ability to attract good staff”. The text in the awards brochure goes on to talk about the company putting together a comprehensive package to attract and retain good quality staff including health care provision and pay rates in the upper ‘quartile’ for the sector. Other initiatives include a profiling tool known as DISCovery, something to do with dominance, influence, sustainability and conscientisouness!

This is all fine so far, but based on our experience when we visited Ilva in Gateshead there seems no proof of this actually working. Sullen staff (nice haircuts mind!) standing around in groups, trying it seemed to learn how to use the IT system, arguing with each other in the café and who didn’t know what they sold to eat, cashiers slumped with their chins on their hands chatting to each other while a customer waited to be served, diffucult directions to enter and exit the building (customer service is not all about staff) and ultimately very few staff who looked like they had any experience in even buying furniture, (a prerequisite I think in being a retailer or working for one is knowledge from a customer point of view).

I care about customer service because it’s close to my heart and is a fundemental basic of retail design, and what’s annoying is to give a business an award when the innovation plainly has not reached the shop floor. Perhaps all the staff have been to Denmark for their training, perhaps they know the product inside out, but when they don’t communicate any of the brand to the customers the innovation obviously fails. Surely any award has to have substance in order for it to be authentic? I wonder if any of the judges visited the businesses who were up for this particular award, shopped at them and drew conclusions from real experiences, if they had they would know that giving the award to Ilva makes it not worth the crystal it’s etched in.

Bloomingdale’s customer service Tue, 27 Feb 2007 10:07:20 +0000 Nick This post from Consumerist shows how to write a customer service letter and think of all the free advertising spreading round that family, (alright it cost him a handbag) not to mention online. If I was cynical I think he’d know this was going to end up online but it’s so nicely written I think that should be forgiven.

9 ways to improve your retail design Wed, 21 Feb 2007 15:06:14 +0000 Amanda Having got over our initial disappointment with ILVA at Gateshead, we have had quite a few discussions (and heated debates!) about them and started to talk about what they could do to improve their store. This has become a wider discussion about retail design in general and how retailers can make more effort and add more excitement for their customers. So here’s our first top 10 (oops 9) list with particular reference to ILVA since it’s up their in our minds at the moment.

1. The entrance – visual expression of the brand.
The shop front is about making a brand statement, today I do not believe a retailer can rely on a building, customers expect to connect with a brand to understand what they are buying into a visually:
The shop front should feature: Ilva’s aspiration of elegance (the identity designed by Noddy probably doesn’t help them here). Plus a lot more – this might include, the latest product, seasonal product, product range, product promotions. Also why do all retailers copy each other and all use the same or similar retail calendars? Why not take a leaf out of Selfridges book and create your own excitement.

I think the shop front is elegant the entrance in particular but for a retailer it is lacking in inspiration, with no product statement. From a customers perspective it is not enough of an architectural statement to create interest and not enough of a brand statement to create expectation. I am not sure if Schmidt, Hammer and Lessen had any involvement in the build but if so they are clearly not retailers designers, to create a truly great retail experience you need to understand retail and I believe to create a truly great iconic retail building you need both a great architect and a retail designer.

On approach it would be simple to see a product statement if ILVA used a Visual Merchandiser. Or alternatively started their graphic navigation from the shopfront.

2. The decompression zone – the first 3 metres of the store. Provide a product cat-walk and visual navigation of the space, give us time to move from the outside to the inside.

As the customer enters the store there is an opportunity to explain the attributes of the brand, this should be an exciting visual expression of the product. Also the customer should be able to orientate themselves enabling them to understand the store, making a decision on where to go. In the ILVA store in Gateshead I would suggest the ground floor double height space is used to showcase a much larger range of product, from here the customer should be able to walk directly into the retail space, this will mean removing the glass shelvingthat blocks your passage through to the ground floor.

Any customer should be able to visually navigate the space from here, without having to ask the ‘receptionist’ where to go, understanding the proposition and being visually enticed.

3. The store – Re-organise the product into visual stories, clear and interesting planning. Visual merchandising and cross selling.

Re organising all the product into visual stories (Oriental, French, Scandinavian, modern etc.) means customers can take their cues from these stories and buy into them relative to their own lives and homes. Re-plan the floor into the stories, this will allow one room set to flow into the next each room set must be a fully and authentically visual story with accessories, wall finishes, and different art not just a few items of furniture against a white backdrop or the constant doubling up of (not very nice IMHO) art. The accessories could even be available to purchase adjacent to the room set, a simple way to help customers start to buy a look who can’t afford or don’t want to buy the furniture today.

The dining areas should not be just a sea of tables but interesting environments, customers can feel invited to sit in and imagine in their own home. Beautiful elegant graphics should explain the attributes of the product, its cost, its delivery and any credit offers to help give all information at the appropriate point and help turn browsing into a purchase.

There needs to be a absolutely clear good, better, best policy allowing customers to buy ILVA value at each price level. This should go into the bath shop and accessories where the product was not as good as the brand leads you to expect, the towels were poor quality, not in trend colours, the cushions were under filled etc. These areas could be fabulous if ILVA lived up to its values.

This store could be re-planned so easily and the VM solutions are so simple and can be so effective. A plan that leads the customer from one understandable look to another enticing them on and never disappointing should be simple to achieve with this brand and create a real wow factor. The store needs navigation to help customers understand the space; it needs graphics to explain the product and its value. It needs graphics to inform costs and explain delivery. It needs graphics to explain offers. You need to be able to pick up a catalogue without delving under an unmanned pay station to get one. It already has all the answers on its website, just take a look at their catalog (sic), unfortunately this flavour hasn’t found its way into the store, in Gateshead at least.

4. The staff - They need to be product experts with enthusiasm. Preferably looking like they might have some experience themselves in buying furniture. Staff training is a worldwide dilemma but it can be so, so much better.

5. Accessories – A more extensive, more interesting range.

The accessories areas should be department allowing customers to buy into the look/trend customers feel is for them, even if they are not ready to buy furniture yet, this area should entice customers to return regularly for gifts and to see the latest looks. This is an opportunity to be ground breaking in introducing trends colours and eco products, all areas the UK customer would love to see. Don’t hide trolleys behind a wall where you’re unlikely to find one. Put them in a place where you might have more than two things in your hand.
6. The café – More relaxing, easier to understand the menu, better opportunity to buy Danish produce.

The long rows of tables looks very ‘modern’ and probably looks great on an architectural visual, but did not invite customers in, some visual breaks would help it feel less like school dinners. The counters were one of the best parts of the store, the offer was rather difficult to understand and staff hungry, although despite there being quite a few hanging around getting served wasn’t that easy, and there was only three of us in the café.

7. The exit – Open all the doors to enter and exits.

The only reason to separate the exit from the entrance in UK retailing is to stop customers stealing product! This does not sit well with the ILVA brand. Ikea use a separate exit because of all the larger product collected by the customer, it is not fun but the fact the product is available immediately makes us put up with it. ILVA should be better than this, customers should be able to navigate their way to the collection point from the tills, they should also be able to leave and enter through any door.

What ever the operational issues are with the entrance/exit regime ILVA have at present they quickly need to get over them and open up the store.

8. Make visiting ILVA a day out, somewhere customers can visit even if they have nothing they need, it could be so great and could be with a bit more effort.

9. Buy, read and learn - Why We Buy - The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill

If you love someone buy them a kitchen Wed, 14 Feb 2007 12:50:21 +0000 Nick I love (especially today) Ikea’s idea of selling someone a kitchen through a valentine’s email. A bit of lateral thinking, a bit of effort with some recipes, a rich red kitchen and a couple of steamy robots and there you go. So much email marketing is uninspirational and has so little effort or thought applied to it it’s good to see something well thougt through and a link to a site that has a greate deal to hold the interest. Plus it arrived just before lunchtime so the food angle strikes home straightaway.

Food is the music of love after all, or is that the other way round?
Ikea Valentines Email

Make friends with your consultant Tue, 06 Feb 2007 17:08:09 +0000 Nick A good view on Retail Bulletin about how to use we ‘consultants’. We often have a different view, not necessarily better, mainly because our angle of attack and our view of the world may be different.

I do enjoy a good rant Mon, 29 Jan 2007 10:38:11 +0000 Nick

Are (UK clothes store) River Island breaking the law? Great article about accessibility

read more | digg story

ILVA in Gateshead Fri, 26 Jan 2007 18:40:56 +0000 Nick

We were all looking forward to our first visit to the home retailer ILVA. The web site was fantastic and promised so much. So what did we think?

Back at the building that had caused M&S so many problems, it did look different, much more open but a bit bland! We walked into a very white double height entrance and were immediately confused – how do we get in!! There were a few products, a tree! and an information desk. We had to ask and were directed to an escalator (no signage). It was a long drive so we headed for the café, it was large, empty, and a bit intimidating; it felt more like a canteen than a rest point. But there were lots of staff, unfortunately not very interested in us. We had lunch, again nothing special.

Then onto the retail. We were faced with regimented rows of white room-sets, well almost room sets - a few items of furniture with some very odd and repetitive prints in each space. There did not seem to be any reason for the adjacencies, and the product was very variable. Our immediate thought was a good visual merchandiser could make such a difference. There was one open area filled with dining furniture, one table after another! No graphic messages, very few accessories and expensive. The children’s area was a visual break but there was not enough unfortunately. The bath shop again lacked stock and the stories were very weak, there was no good, better, best structure; the offer is as good and cheaper at Sainsbury’s.
How about the staff? Well they ignored us. Probable a good thing, they were so young they did not look as if they could give any useful advice on anything beyond a weird haircut.

We have been educated by IKEA and this was so old fashioned. There were a few interesting items but if customers were not put off by the lack of inspiration the bizarre pricing/buying policy was next. A lovely little coffee table/stool at £150 with a chair next to it for £55 – suddenly the coffee table seemed over priced! This irregular pricing was not restricted to the furniture but was even more pronounced in the accessories. Not good value was the conclusion we reached.

So what else went wrong?

We could not get to the ground floor furniture; confused again, this time we followed one of the few other customers but found the door was locked! So we walked back to the main entrance and there was a sign at last - an A4 typed sign stuck to the entrance telling us were to go! More white room sets, more staff ignoring us and more disappointing product. At last we got to the accessories and discovered where the horrible prints had come from! But yet again the pricing and adjacencies confused us. They had some very nice product and if they had gathered it together as their premier collection and told us why it was better we might have bought but we were just confused.

Then last but not least we could not get out! Again we followed another customer who was very unhappy and discovered we were not allowed out of the exit opposite the tills but had to walk via the collection point to another exit “Even further away from the ***** car in the pouring rain” we heard him say.
I wonder if it will survive – is this an example of a retailer presuming their offer will work in another country and not doing their homework well enough.

The store needs a more inspirational layout that draws customers through the store rather than the enforced route.
Re-organising with navigational signage and stronger stories.
Better visual merchandising in the room sets. Information with the product.
A strong ‘Good, Better, Best’ policy.
A far better understanding of the UK customer.

Sorry ILVA – not good enough.

Say it with Carbon Fri, 26 Jan 2007 17:43:00 +0000 Nick

Despite the promises last week of impending greeness Marks & Spencer this email tells us, extols even the benefits of buying flowers from foreign climes. Why buy? it says, because these roses are from Columbia and Kenya! The first bullet point on the M&S press release states a very worthy aim “to become carbon neutral”. This is not the way to do it. I realise of course they’ve already bought the flowers but customers do notice these things you know.
Marks & Spencer Valentine’s Email