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Comment: Paul Campbell of British Gypsum on how Evidence Based Design is improving retail spaces

Recent research has found that when it comes to retail spaces, consumers are ultimately looking for one thing: an enjoyable experience. In fact, 70 per cent of those asked said that loud and busy stores turn them off and could stop them making a purchase.

The retail sector has long relied on research into customer behaviour to implement the most effective shopping experiences and get customers to spend more, but now this is extending into the actual design and fit-out of retail units themselves.

Evidence Based Design (EBD) - the concept of using credible research to shape building design - is making inroads into the retail sector and becoming an increasingly popular method of creating spaces that enhance the experience of those using them. With origins in healthcare, EBD has close ties with biophilic design - the use of natural or ‘biophilic’ elements.

Many believe that incorporating biophilic design principles into retail spaces can have positive effects on both customers and employees during their time in-store. The World Green Building Council, for example, has recently listed this design method, which takes elements such as natural light, improved air quality and acoustic qualities into account, as one of the most important in terms of beneficial impact on the health and well-being of visitors.

The benefit of using of EBD in retail is shown in recent studies. Research from Terrapin Bright Green of 73 stores across California found that when skylights were added to thosee 49 stores with artificial light they saw a 40% increase in sales. Conducted between 1993 and 2001, the study also found reduced energy costs were an added benefit for retailers.

Where we are really seeing this type of design brought to life is in large, modern shopping centres. Trinity Leeds, one of the newest shopping centres in the UK, is a naturally ventilated building, comprising a series of open air arcaded streets and public spaces. The improved natural ventilation creates better air quality, which has proven health benefits and reduces energy consumption. Dubai Mall has also used biophilic design to improve the shopping centre for customers with the incorporation of a large indoor waterfall.

Poor acoustics in any building can have a detrimental effect on user experience. A recent survey by charity Action on Hearing found that 80 per cent of diners have left a restaurant, café or pub due to noise levels, with nine in ten saying they would not return.

Such research is having an impact on what product manufacturers are creating and how they make it. Materials used during the construction process are now being designed to promote good indoor air quality and better acoustics. Using bespoke, specialist solutions can significantly enhance the customer experience, while also keeping environmental impact in mind.

With building materials available, designs that benefit customers can be created from the initial fittings stages. This not only allows retailers to put the shopping experience at the forefront, but also to maintain flexibility. It allows them to create a great customer experience to improve footfall, dwell time and, ultimately, spend. 

Using research to influence customer behaviour has always common practice in the retail sector, but EBD is increasingly being used to create a better customer experience and to boost revenue. Now that there is a stronger focus on cultural well-being, making the most of the research available and translating this into the buildings we design can deliver real benefits for retailers.

British Gypsum will be exhibiting on stand T20 at Retail Design Expo 2017