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People not technology will shape future stores says Retail Design Expo panel

The store of the future has to put people rather than new technology first, agreed expert design panellists speaking at the Retail Design Expo. 

Mike Roberts, chief creative officer at brand and retail design consultancy Green Room said retailers need to think about human interactions and not just sales: “If you set up to design a retail experience you’ll design a cash desk, then you’ll think of the customers."

Instead, he believes brands will need to look outside of retail for inspiration to create successful high street stores in the future that put customers first: “I’m anti the word ‘retail’ – [design should be] influenced by so many different industries. It’s more about us as people rather than defined uses.”

He added: “We’re doing a service piece for a client. We’re not looking at traditionally retail philosophy. We're looking for inspiration from hotels, from theme parks.

Panellist Jon Tollit, Principal at Gensler, an integrated architecture, design, planning and consulting firm, agreed, saying: “Tom Nathan from Brent Cross was talking earlier today about creating a place for people to be. It’s manna from heaven that people are starting to have that dialogue. It’s about looking at value in a different way because [in the long term] happy people spend money.”

Tollit added that department stores are best placed to take advantage of the widening remit of the high street because they can legitimately create different type of experiences, such as restaurants, cinemas and even gyms so that stores become entertaining spaces and relaxing spaces as well as shopping destinations.

The session was moderated by Saisangeeth Daswani, advisory strategist at Stylus, a trends and research consultancy, who asked how retailers balance the demand for technology with a human experience.

“Retailers need to strike a balance,” said Roberts of Green Room. We have a lot of potential clients that come to us and say: ‘We need to get digital into retail’. And when we ask why, they say, because their competitors are. It needs to feel relevant."

He adds that he sees no place for some technology advancements, such as virtual reality in physical retail spaces in the future. "I’m not a fan of VR. I don’t want to go into a physical environment to then go into virtual environment.”

But, he said the stores of the future will have to constantly think about the new experiences they can bring to the store environment to keep up with customer demands for continuous. “Components of the store should have a daily refresh so that stores don’t stagnate.” He said retailers need to think about how the lighting, the screens and even the verbal interactions the staff have with customers and how they can be changed.  

But ultimately, the most important piece he gave for designing the store of the future is to “put humans first and tech second every single time.”

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