Presentation is a crucial factor in how customers perceive products as they enter a retail environment
Words by Kay Hill
Jack Cohen, founder of the Tesco business empire, started his business in 1919 with the motto ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’. In a world that was used to the rough and tumble of market stalls, it was a format that worked – and in some categories it still does. Customers going into a Poundland or a B&M don’t really expect a tasteful setting and artistically displayed products; they just want to get in and out with an armful of stuff.
But even at the cheaper end of the scale, design can make all the difference. Compare, for example, the average UK pound/99p-type shop with Danish newcomer Tiger.
Tiger started life as the Danish equivalent of a pound shop, but the way it cheerfully displays its wares heightens the impression of getting a bargain compared with the UK’s utilitarian pound shop offerings
In the pound shops, the very look of the utility racking and narrow aisles lets you know without question that everything is cheap (and possibly not very cheerful). The light, bright, market stall-type presentation of Tiger (or indeed of IKEA’s Marketplace area) makes customers feel that the goods on offer are of a higher quality, so the low prices feel like an even bigger bargain.
Beautiful stained glass by Keith New, saved from the original building, extends the gallery space into the shop at the Design Museum
Move upmarket and presentation becomes even more important, as the store designer not only needs to demonstrate the value of the product, but something about the brand ethos at the same time. Retail designer Andrew Luckett from Brixton East 1871 was involved in the creation of Brompton Bicycles’ store in Covent Garden, and chose to display the iconic folding bikes in white, floor-to-ceiling cubes. The impact is striking – at the very first glance the USP of the product (its incredibly compact folding ability) is revealed, along with its array of colours and styles.
The way Louboutin’s iconic women’s shoes are displayed in niches and on plinths hint at the reverence in which they are held
Louboutin’s equally iconic red-soled shoes also deserve a special kind of treatment, and London retail design specialist Household Design, which recently created the company’s first boutique in Canada, elevated the women’s high heels almost to the status of objects of devotion in its imaginative design. The whole store has the theme of an enchanted forest, but when it comes to the shoes themselves, they are placed on mirrored plinths and in religious-style niches to reflect their perceived status. The recently launched men’s collection is presented slightly differently, on top of polished wooden platforms on a treelike display. The message is unmistakable – if you want to get to the top of the tree, this is what you need on your feet.
Men’s Louboutin shoes have a more robust display aimed at those aspiring to climb to the top of the corporate tree
If there was ever a daunting retail design challenge, creating the shop for the Design Museum in Kensington High Street was surely it. How do you lure visitors into a shop when they have already marvelled at the icons of design they have just seen in the rest of the former Commonwealth Institute, magnificently reconfigured by John Pawson? The answer was to employ another design icon, Vitsoe’s 606 Universal Shelving System designed by Dieter Rams in 1960. The timeless, reconfigurable shelving is used to showcase a carefully curated selection of products, while the original stained glass windows by Keith New were left in place to make the shop feel like a natural continuation of the exhibition space.
Kitchenware and china is displayed in a stately home setting at Fortnum & Mason – familiar to some customers, aspirational to others
Caulder Moore’s design for children’s shop Katakeet used child-scale furnishings and displays to create a cosy atmosphere
In the same way that design-conscious buyers would feel at home in the Design Museum shop, clever retail creations can make other kinds of buyers feel equally at home. Part of HMKM’s overhaul of Fortnum & Mason, for example, was inspired by the cinematography of Gosford Park, deploying the materials, colouring and craftsmanship of the ‘downstairs’ of an English country manor to display the upmarket dining and cooking wares. Meanwhile, Caulder Moore made young children (and their parents) feel perfectly home in Katakeet, a new luxury children’s store in the UAE, by using a storybook theme with child-sized furniture and display rails.
If the retail design can catch the very essence of the products on display, the effect can be highly productive. Household’s design for The White Company shop in Marylebone High Street, for example, is as white, soft and tactile as the company’s bedlinen, while the display area calls to mind domestic storage such as linen cupboards and wardrobes. It’s only a small jump in a customer’s mind to picture those textiles in their own home – which is, after all, the very point.