What role does technology play in retail design?

Full service retail design agency Sheridan&Co recently supported the Canadian company The 7 Virtues Beauty's UK launch, with a pop-up unit in London’s Selfridges’s department store.

The agency has worked with a number of leading beauty brands since its inception in 1982, and Essential Retail caught up with chairman and founder Michael Sheridan to find out how technology is having a growing impact on retail design.

You're company has been operating in the retail design world for the last 30 years: how has technology played a growing part in brands retailers' design requirements?

Technology is by no means a new asset in retail. We first installed in-store skin-imaging systems for Elizabeth Arden in the late 1980s.

Technology can be of great benefit to consumers that are seeking to verify product claims or justify purchases. As LCD screens have become cheaper, there has been a noticeable increase in their use within retail environments. The versatile and adaptable messages that can be presented allow for an ever changing and evolving message to be delivered to consumers. As technology has improved and advanced, so too has the level of flexibility that can be implemented within store design.

More recently, online and mobile phone technology has allowed for improvements in communication and the heightening of the retail experience. This kind of retail technology allows for a process of constant refreshing and targeted sales opportunities. Perhaps in the future the reality will be that real space retail can learn from online and the two disciplines will begin to merge, creating a new form of retail experience.

To what extent do design companies now consider technology a key part of the retail design process?

The level that technology is implemented within design is pretty much dictated by the brands and retailers. Often included in briefs, but equally often omitted in execution, I suspect a lot of retail activity is too 'fast' to allow technology to play a part as the retailers are often focused on the selection, quality and competitiveness of their merchandise.

One of the most common and recognisable in-store systems is the security tag. However, the technology will soon have uses beyond its original design. The coming years will see a much greater focus on the in-store experience as the high street attempts to claw back some of the ground lost to online. I think Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, found within security tags, will have a big part to play in this.

We will soon be at a point whereby the technology can be activated when a customer simply picks an item off the shelf. This could trigger a product information video to start on a nearby screen, music to begin playing, or even something more sensory, like a scent being sprayed into the room. Think big and think theatrical.

My advice to retailers is to work with technology that is seamless within the shopping process, and does not require a change of habit from the consumer. If the customer has to learn something new, chances are it won’t be well received.

What examples can you offer where technology has played a crucial part in improving the design of a retailer's store or concession stand?

I can’t skip over Apple. Its use of technology to simplify purchasing and payment transactions has reduced queues significantly.

As an example, one piece of technology works in their California store by allowing customers with an Apple iPhone to purchase products or select items to view before they set foot in the store. The Apple staff are then alerted on their own devices once the customer arrives, provided with the items they have pre-paid for or given information on devices they are considering.

This system allows staff to spend more time making sure customers get want they want and receive the right advice. This process also results in the freeing up of space within the retail environment, allowing for more merchandise to be displayed.

Aside from use of in-store technology, what do today's retailers typically want to achieve in terms of the way their commercial space looks?

In all of the stores where we work, certainly the look and feel of the retail space is of paramount importance. If you take Oxford Street as an example, there is hardly a store in the area that has not recently, and then again periodically, gone through major refurbishment. This allows for the area to build on its growing reputation for being a primary global location to shop.

The core target for any store design is to drive sales. Every element within the retail space should complement one another in order to provide an interesting and efficient experience that will lead to the consumer completing purchases and returning time after time.

To what extent can good store design level the playing field between a small retailer and a large brand?

Providing a more personal shopping experience is an area where smaller retailers can repeatedly beat the giants. Learning and utilising regular shoppers own personal preferences will provide a more bespoke service that is very difficult for larger operators to achieve.


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