Shopfitting focus: new technology and materials

Gone are the days of customers popping in to a shop to pick something up and then rushing back out again. The new breed of shoppers and public service users want something a bit more memorable, with more options to interact with technology while they are at it.

Interactive screens in Rockar Hyundai, by Dalziel & Pow

Brands, too, are making the most of this consumer hunger for an interactive experience, as Lumsden Design founder Callum Lumsden explains: “We are getting more involved in ‘experiential design’, where clients want customers to have more than just a shopping experience. I call it ‘cultural retail’, and it’s a popular concept with our museum and visitor attraction clients whose retail shops represent their brands.”

This means, for example, installing green screen technologies that allow customers to interact digitally with brands, have their photos taken and then sent to their social media platforms, as well as touch screens that work like a mirror to show you what you’d look like in an outfit you’re trying on. And shopfitting companies must learn to work with all of these new trends.

Tony Lyon, store designer at T3 Pharmacy Design – which works with Alliance Boots and LloydsPharmacy, independent pharmacies throughout the UK, and was responsible for the pharmacy at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham – has also noticed the trend for interactive and digital interfaces.

“We’re all familiar with the trend for moving imagery and the popularity of YouTube has changed the way businesses are thinking about engaging with their customers,” he says. “For example, we’ve seen an increase in clients asking for video screens rather than static posters. Although the hardware is quite an investment, the benefits of screens can be considerable; as well as attracting attention and engaging with customers, pharmacies can respond to change very quickly and after the initial installation, ongoing costs are low.

“We’re also looking at how we incorporate QR codes into the shopping experience,” says Lyon, “and we’ve got clients asking about customer waiting systems. In pharmacies there can be several minutes’ wait whilst a prescription is dispensed and a couple of pharmacies have enquired how they can run systems in conjunction with neighbouring retailers to allow customers to browse other stores while their prescription is being completed.”

But new technologies are not solely for the enjoyment of the end user. Retail designers and shopfitters can also make the most of technical developments, as National Association of Shopfitters director Robert Hudson explains: “3D laser scanning and building information modelling means there is no such thing as a tape measure these days, because the technology can scan a room in a matter of minutes to give you sizes, dimensions and other information that you need, with incredible accuracy.”

Tony Lyon uses 3D design software where photo quality renders or walkthroughs are required and also for creating effective lighting layouts, adding: “We also use Building Information Modelling software where required, such as for projects that are being BREEAM assessed.”

The use of new materials is also something that keeps designers and shopfitters on their toes.

Design and shopfitting company Clements Retail in Leicester works with some very high spec materials. “Alexander McQueen’s store on Old Bond Street, features details such as smashed white marble flooring alongside references to what is described as ‘flora, fauna, the human body and the works of Francis Bacon’,” says Clements Retail spokesman Stuart Weston. “For Ports 1961 in Paris, the ground floor has delicate 3D wall patterns in Venetian plaster, [and] for Christian Louboutin’s store on Dover Street, the center of the space has a distinctive Tiikeri clad cash desk. This sustainable material, made from reclaimed sorghum stalks, takes its name from the Finnish for ‘tiger’ alluding to its distinguishing natural markings.”

James Dwyer, senior design at Lumsden Design, is seeing what he calls a more “honest” approach to materials being requested: “Clients are asking for materials such as high quality timber, which is great as it means we are reducing the amount of laminates and plastics that we use, and we are also incorporating lots of interesting materials into our designs, such as Armorcast polymer concrete – which we used for table tops at Bristol Museum – and Valchromat solid coloured MDF – which we used in a job we did for the historic Belvedere building in Vienna.”

Dwyer thinks this trend for quality design and honest materials will continue. “We’re trying more and more to surprise people and create shops that look more like inspirational spaces,” he says. “Our client base is quite diverse so our inspiration often comes from their stories and then the choices of materials and technologies follow, and we always keep our eyes open for new things.”

However, Callum Lumsden thinks the ‘new’ thing next might be a move towards a tech-free environment “because people are getting a bit technology overloaded”.

This might suit some of Tony Lyon’s pharmacy clients, whom he admits are “stuck in a bit of a time warp. It’s not unusual for independent pharmacies to go more than 20 years between refits, yet other retailers would generally refit every five to ten years. For those pharmacies that had their last refit 20 years ago, that was before social media, sat navs, MP3 players and smart phones, so what could happen in the next 20 years?”

Lloyds Pharmacy

Whichever way the tide turns, Robert Hudson emphasises that the skills of the designers and fitters remains paramount, adding: “Retailers rarely change their shopfitter, so if you do a good job for one of your clients you may well get yourself on their books for life.”