VM panel report: Know your brand – and don’t use tech for the sake of it

Retail Design Expo delegates enjoyed a lively ‘VM Trends’ panel – which returned a unanimous verdict from all three speakers: that, while VM is still important to convey a sense of brand, technology must know its place, and staff are still key.

Panellists included Cath Kidston global marketing director Sue Chidler; JD Sports group visual creative manager Joanna Quinn, and VM-Unleased managing director Tim Radley. And it was Chidler argued who argued VM must set the right brand scene: “People come to our stores to decompress; they come to us for discovery,” she said. “Even though they know they’re not going to be discovering a one off vintage product, the environment has to reflect the retro atmosphere we’re trying to create. That means we won’t be using screens or anything like this. It wouldn’t be appropriate to our brand.”

Quinn argued many customers are actually “screened-out” and just want to see products in real-life, and in three dimensions. “This is why we’ve starting doing much more window display using rotating tables, that show shoes, for example, from all angles,” added Radley. “This is exactly why visual merchandisers nowadays actually need to show discipline in what they do. There’s a lot of choice out there of different display solutions, so they need a much better grasp of what their brand stands for before diving in.”

No panel discussion this year would be complete without discussing omnichannel, and it seems VM is still adapting to this.

“Omni-channel is a huge complication in VM – especially in measuring ROI – because it’s difficult to determine whether people have enjoyed the store experience, then bought online, or just bought online without the experience first,” said Radley.

“What’s certainly the case is that store staff can either block or embrace these challenges. What we are seeing is that some sales staff are scared of losing sales online, but we need to educate them that the role of the store might simply be to stimulate online sales,” added Chidler.

The best way to engage staff though was through education, and letting them take responsibility for displays, rather than pure compliance, argued Radley: “We do tend to have more of a compliance culture in the UK – which is odd,” he said. “For example, a store can sell nothing all day, but as long as it’s complied with the way products have to be displayed, that’s somehow OK!” He suggested being a bit more flexible: “I’d much rather a store was 90% compliant, but had happy staff… because engaged, helpful staff will more than make up for the other 10%.”