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Shopfitting focus: shopper trends mean new shopfitting skills needed

A well-designed store space substantially increases the amount of time shoppers spend in it, so it’s vital for building sales. But a new report warns retailers must act now to connect consumers’ online and offline experiences, in a bid to prevent the UK high street turning into a row of “brand showrooms”.

Samsung’s Future Shoppers report examined the retail experiences of 16-24 year olds to understand the purchasing decisions of the nation’s next generation of shoppers. It found that while the majority (71 per cent) find themselves in large retail environments at least once a fortnight, the technologically confident, price-conscious shopper frequently opts to make their final purchase online; and increasingly through their mobile phone.

“We’re seeing the emergence of a generation of sophisticated shoppers with considerable disposable income, who have high expectations of what they expect from the high street and other retail environments,” says Graham Long, vice president of Samsung’s Enterprise Business. “Vendors who create exciting in-store environments where shoppers can experience and interact with their products could protect themselves from losing a customer to an online seller. It’s not just a case of replicating online in-store; they need to be better at bridging the gap between the two.”

Issey Miyake London

Simon Campbell, managing director at Belfast-based Portview Fit-Out, which lists Issey Miyake and John Varvatos among its clients, says this threat is not new: “I believe the pressure on retailers to create more sophisticated retail environments existed before online shopping became as prevalent as it currently is. For example, we have witnessed the impact of Click and Collect – even among high end brands – and many stores incorporate features such as iPads, screens or behind-the-scenes high-tech building control systems for ventilation and heating as part of their interior fit-out as they continue to evolve.”

John Varvatos

However, Craig Phillipson, managing director of international retail consultancy and shopfitter Shopworks, believes despite initial fears that online retail spelled the beginning of the end for the physical store, this is far from being the case. “Companies such as Oak Furniture Land and JD Williams, which both originally started as online retailers, have now moved into bricks and mortar, with Oak Furniture Land now achieving 65 per cent of business in-store,” he says.

For Phillipson, the key in successfully implementing consumer-facing retail technology is to understand how technology can enhance the shopper’s in-store journey by “responding to a real need as opposed to just providing technology for technology sake”.

And when it comes to technology, another significant shift is the final point of purchase, according to Victoria Pascoe, retail strategy director at retail analyst FCB Inferno. “The inclusion of touchscreens and interactive POS can provide a more immersive retail experience,” she says, “and smart retailers are using physical environment to offer a tactile, engaging and immersive experiences to give shoppers a reason to cross the threshold, and then using both digital and physical tools at the fixture to give shoppers confidence in their purchase decision to ultimately drive conversion whilst in-store.”

Multi-channel connectivity is also key to not losing a sale, according to Damian Hanson, CEO of cloud-based ecommerce technology supplier One Iota. He says: “iPads carried by store assistants and touch-screen kiosks, for instance, allow sales staff to point customers to a wider availability of stock online – essential if the shop has limited floor space, or has run out of an item in a certain colour or size. In doing so, the retailer is able to convert sales even after the shelves are cleared.”

As ‘digitalisation’ drives retailers to merge online shopping with their stores, shopfitting contractors and design specialists must also evolve if they are to deliver technology-led store refurbishments and compete for work in the retail sector. “Internet shopping has, without a doubt, influenced refurbishment trends among our retail clients in recent years,” says Andy Shaw, operations director at property services group Styles&Wood, “with more focusing their efforts on creating an in-store experience that mirrors the speed and convenience of online shopping, thus blurring the line between the high street and the internet.

“As a result, clients are increasingly looking to work with contractors that can offer a full implementation service – from the installation of IT and the associated fixtures, to having the technical know-how to connect the devices – rather than hire a number of different contractors for one roll-out. Smart refurbishment specialists that can offer this end-to-end facility are better-placed to maximise work secured in the digital age.”

David Lowrence, Fujitsu

This means shopfitters are having to add to their skills, as David Lowrence, retail industry consultant in UK & Ireland at Fujitsu, explains: “Shopfitters will need to develop new in store capabilities around embedded communications and flexible delivery of technology at the points of perusal and sale. New skills that go beyond design and build of physical interiors into the delivery of embedded technology will be required. These skills, which were previously part of the IT system delivery organisations’ offerings, will become increasingly important to the shopfitting industry as retailers demand speed and flexibility in their customer-facing operations.”

We are heading towards an “omni-channel experience”, allowing purchasers to engage through their channels of choice, according to customer experience strategist Terry Green. “A poor in-store experience could lose today’s sale and cast a shadow over future purchasing intentions,” he says. “This implies that retailers need to carefully think through the whole physical and emotional journey that shoppers make from their online investigation through walking out of the store with their goods.”

Ultimately, it’s not online competition that presents a threat to real-world retailers, but a lack of a joined-up multichannel offering. While developments in technology are revolutionising the way that we shop, they are also putting the power to make or break a brand more firmly in the hands of shoppers than ever before.

Case Study

Street Beat is a multi-brand urban footwear retail proposition from retail giant Inventive Retail Group in Russia, selling mostly trainers from brands such as Nike, Adidas and so on. Its first store opened in mid-November in Moscow with a further 50 stores planned over the next three years.

Shopworks was appointed to design and develop the 3D expression of the new brand in store, which included:

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