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Retail Design Expo steering panel names hot topics for 2016

Beating a silo mentality to achieve truly seamless integration between online and offline shopping, and ways to convince retailer procurement departments of the value of design, are key issues that must be tackled if shopper demands are to be met according to the Retail Design Expo 2016 Steering Panel.

Meeting in London last week to help drive forward the event’s conference agenda, the group started by relating their experiences of this year’s Retail Design Expo.

River Island shopfitting director Carlo Lambi told how he visited with a number of colleagues from different departments of the company, and as a result visited a wider variety of stands than he might otherwise have done. “I looked and learned from areas that aren’t usually related to my job,” he said.

Nick Widdowson of Unilever

Unilever UK merchandising and creative controller Nick Widdowson, who is also the chairman of POPAI, also enjoyed the event. “POPAI members felt that it was a marked improvement on shows that have gone before,” he told the steering panel.

Sandrine Gravsholt, retail and merchandising director at L’Oreal, said exhibitors at Retail Design Expo provided inspiration for product brands as well as retailers. “From a brand’s point of view it was very interesting to see,” she said.

Robert Hudson, chief executive of the National Association of Shopfitters, and SDEA director Lawrence Cutler both applauded the professionalism of the event and relayed the support of their members.

When it came to subjects the group wants to see analysed and debated at next year’s Retail Design Expo, they had firm opinions.

“Experience is what it is all about,” said Bluewater general manager Robert Goodman, who is keen to find new ways for shoppers to experience stores. The shopping centre encourages all of its retail tenants to create unique store formats for Bluewater to make shopper visits there more special.

“We are spending an awful lot of our time looking at connected shopper journeys,” said Unilever’s Nick Widdowson, echoing the view of architect Jon Tollit, principal at Gensler who added: “We are all struggling with a silo approach when the customer wants a seamless experience… as designers we are starting to question ‘what are we designing?’”

A demand for seamless communication is included in 90 per cent of current retail briefs, said Green Room CEO Richard Ash, who warned that many retailers are still “Doing digital, for digital’s sake,” without a clear understanding of their objectives.

All of the panel members agreed that a shift in business strategy means that procurement departments are often now the ‘buyer’ of design services within retail companies – and that these departments often have little understanding of the design process.

Former 02 director Simon Bentley agrees that the procurement department is “The biggest hurdle to get over,” when it comes to commissioning a design agency. “You’re trying to educate a procurement person that choosing an agency isn’t just about price,” he added.