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Interview: Topshop head of creative visual Sian Roberts

Shoppers who complain about Christmas starting earlier every year might find it difficult to work at Topshop. Head of visual creative Sian Roberts had already held her first planning meeting for Christmas 2017 less than a fortnight into the new year.

“The team pretty much want to shoot me, but I schedule a brainstorm meeting for January,” says Roberts, who will be speaking about Christmas interiors at Retail Design Expo 2017. With live analysis of trading during the Christmas period, planning the store’s creative approach to Christmas is effectively a live project for 13 months a year, she says.

The first meeting of the year does not address direct design issues for the next Christmas, but analyses the performance of the season that has just ended – both in terms of competitor analysis and a frank look at Topshop’s own efforts.

“We are our own worse critics,” says Roberts. “We look at the successes and failures of what everybody has done, and the successes and failures of what we have done. Were there any things that went wrong? Was installation difficult, was delivery difficult, where there any materials we found difficult to source or use? What should we steer clear of next time?”

Pragmatism can be important. The seasonal schemes designed by the Topshop team must be applied to a diverse portfolio of stores, from the massive Oxford Street flagship to smaller, older units. While a six-strong field display team reaches as many of the 320 UK stores as it can, some stores will see Christmas in-store campaigns installed by the store manger. In these cases the field display team will provide best practice advice to ensure the best results possible, but the skills base of store staff will be considered at the design stage, says Roberts.

The pressure to perform well at Christmas is matched by growing competition in fashion retail, she says. “There are always more competitors. Fashion retail has just exploded in popularity,” she adds, citing the growing number of online retailers moving into physical stores to invigorate the sector.

Roberts, who has worked at Topshop for 15 years, heads up the 20-strong Creative Visual department. As the retailer expands outside the UK – with two stores trading in Los Angeles, and an opening in Miami and a growing presence in Nordstrom department stores planned for 2017 – she insists that an element of theatre is still essential to get shoppers inside stores despite, or because of, the growth in online retail.

“Retail is highly competitive. The shift to online makes us all work harder. It can mean you can’t be so reliant on old-school methods, or perhaps that we need to return to some of the old school methods,” says Roberts.

Having more information about how consumers respond to features and attractions in-store can help the creative team focus on what works. Roberts says that analytics data from companies such as Walkbase is having a substantial impact on its work, helping to tailor stores to customer preferences and establishing how shoppers might react to new ideas. “But reactions can change due to weather, or even the time of day. Sometimes you do need to trust your gut instinct,” she says.

Sian Roberts will be talking about designing Christmas interiors at Retail Design Expo 2017