Comment: Both left brain and right brain thinking is required for stores that last says Nigel Collett of RPA: Group

We hear all too often that there is an identity crisis in retail. The gloomier commentators claim that the fundamental concept of the high street store is in question and others suggest that bricks and mortar as a concept is finally broken and remains unfixable.

In fact, the reverse is true. There are some stores which really ‘get what it means to go shopping in the 21st century, they understand what is required of the experience and they are achieving amazing things. These brands are capable of creating compelling destinations. So, perhaps it’s not the retail bricks and mortar model that is broken? Perhaps, it’s the store design and the brand thinking itself that has gone astray for many retail brands?

I think the problem boils down to stores either being too creative or too analytical, and missing out on a blend or balance of the two. You may have heard people describe themselves as "right-brained" or "left-brained," with the left-brainers bragging about their logic and analytical skills and the right-brainers touting their creativity, essentially I think retail destinations suffer from the same problem.

The really successful stores are the ones that achieve a balance of the two hemispheres. Former Burberry CEO (now at Apple) Angela Arendhts rather tellingly pointed out that Burberry cherished both the right and left-brain, but more importantly relished thinking that was a union of both.

As the undoubted saviour of Burberry, and now the new retail guru at Apple, Arendhts doubtless knows what she is talking about. Her current partnership with Apple’s design guru Jonathan Ive is already revitalising the look of its stores and taking the brand into new territory that fits a changing product base.  The store in Belgium, for example, is filled with trees and boasts huge glass walls, doubtless very creative.  However, it is bringing the outside world into the store, thereby underlining the unquestioned mobility and freedom of apple’s products, which shows the logical left-brain at work. It’s a big statement that is ‘on brand’ and the result of both hemispheres working together.

But, I hear you say, this is the work of the brightest stars in the retail firmament and surely not something that the average retailer can come up with?

Well, achieving that balance is easier than you think. It simply requires designers to understand more about the store’s actual function and how consumers think and behave. This is easily achieved if designers work with retail marketers, psychologists and digital specialists to address a store’s ‘big picture’, thereby enabling the space to deliver everything the customer wants.

Increasingly, this means understanding the basics of what makes shoppers tick. A retail psychologist, for example, will be able to tell you that your fate is sealed in just 1,000th of a second, as that is how long it takes for people to get their first (and possibly lasting) impression of your store. An interior architect will be able to tell you that people normally turn right on entering a store.   

A digital expert will tell you that IT ‘bells and whistles’ should not be too prominently on display but merge seamlessly into the fabric of a retail space, available and on demand and strategically placed, but not doing a ‘Mexican Wave’ to get your attention.

The collaboration of designer with other expert voices is a powerful one and creates stores that will stand the test of time. Apple, despite needing its re-design right now, is the most profitable retail space on the planet and has been for as long as I can remember. What will change the fortunes of flagging brands on the high street is the creation of a team where both left and right brains are given an equal shout, a team that decides the retail destiny of the brand. I think that more collaboration in this style will throw up some unexpected and enviably successful retail projects. 

Nigel Collett is CEO of RPA: Group