Hybrid high street: the future of retail design
Our company founder, Neil Coales, spoke to Tomorrow’s FM last month, to a take a closer look at what Europe’s towns and cities might look like when shops and cafes are able to open their doors once more.
While there’s no escaping that we’re set for a hugely different experience to what we’ve previously been accustomed to, there is hope and opportunity – and we should grasp it with both hands. In case you missed the article, catch up below.
‘The new normal’ is a phrase which I’m sure many of us want to commit to room 101. But in order to survive, retailers must show resilience and a willingness to adapt – it’s not a case of waiting to see what this overused moniker brings first.
That said, as vaccine rollouts pick up pace across Europe, there’s a genuine eagerness to get back to some semblance of normality.
Prior to the pandemic, we had started to see a new-look retail district emerging. The notion of experiential retail is one which is built on the psychological motivations behind shopping. Over the past decade or so, the rationale behind a ‘trip to town’ has shifted from simply ‘making a purchase’, to enjoying a day out with friends and family.
Visiting the local high street has – until recently – transformed into a social event in itself, with shoppers looking forward to browsing the shelves of lifestyle stores, fitting in a manicure, and bookending the trip with brunch and cocktails.
Having relied on unstable internet connections and virtual meetings to catch up with friends and family for almost 12 months, consumers will be looking forward to ‘making a day of it’ once the world opens up once more.
That’s why, once retail, hospitality, and leisure outlets are permitted to reopen and confidence in sharing spaces with others starts to return, we expect independent outlets and big brands to join forces and encourage local investment, footfall, and socio-economic growth.
Investing in the interior
No matter the nature of your property, there’s no escaping the need for social distancing measures to be in place if you’re inviting people inside. Supermarkets and convenience stores were among the first to adopt one-way systems and one-in-one-out policies – and this is an obvious place to begin.
But, as many grapple with the fear associated with leaving the relative safety of their homes, the question remains as to whether the high street will receive the same level of demand – or if consumers will simply continue to purchase goods online.
As you prepare to welcome those who do venture out, be mindful that consumers will be ultra-aware of meeting ‘oncoming traffic’ in the aisles and will be wary of the proximity of others within changing rooms, at café tables, and in hair salons – as well as wondering who has touched what.
Naturally, for businesses which have spent the best part of a year closed – or completely reliant on online orders – updated interiors and investment into shopper experience needs to match the potential return, which is where an experienced fit-out specialist can help to maximise any budget available.
Although it’s impossible to prevent shoppers from picking up – and putting back – items, many retailers are instead looking to create a more experiential environment, whereby limited stock is on display and customers must request an item to try on, or can view a product instore before heading home to order it online.
Creating that crucial curb appeal
Looking after the customer once they’re over the threshold is arguably the easy part, as now more than ever, it’s important to remember that first impressions count – and can be made in less than seven seconds.
It’s easy to focus so much time – and budget – on the main store space, but the eyes of passers-by will naturally be drawn to visually appealing shopfronts. A bold façade can do wonders for footfall, so remember that people will gravitate towards inspired window displays – during both the day and night.
However, it’s worth knowing what is, and isn’t, permitted on your local high-street – particularly for those international brands which rely on their consistent visual identity to draw in the crowds.
Something what might be permitted in London or Leeds, for example, could be received quite differently in places such as Paris or Prague – which have unique rules and departments for potential changes to the frontage in protected areas.
If your business operates from a historic building or prestigious postcode, be mindful that these extra layers of administration can have a knock-on effect on schedules, plans, and budgets.
Never forget to consider disabled access and egress too.
How a space is laid out – from the front door to shelves, changing rooms, and tills – and the public’s journey through it, must be carefully managed throughout all elements of the planning, construction, and fit-out stages.
Don’t overlook disused space – it’s key to our recovery
Finally, another popular construction trend is the transformation of derelict and dilapidated spaces. These trendy, multi-use facilities not only make use of the bricks and mortar we already have but are designed to encourage investment and socio-economic growth.
Whether a city centre or out-of-town option, breathing new life into spaces which offer a range of lifestyle choices – from food and drink, to retail, leisure and living – is on the up. Often former places of industry, the desire to live, work, and socialise in a place with a rich past and true character is very much à la mode.
Design which pays homage to the history of a building, and embraces original stone or brickwork alongside exposed steel, timber, or pipework can provide an ideal backdrop for social media marketing too – a key route to attracting Insta-inspired visits.
However, as with all refurb projects, an exhaustive examination of the existing structure and building adjacencies is a prerequisite to any decision regarding potential reuse, as this is where initial costs – and potentially hidden ones – will lie.
The pandemic has made owners, users, and developers of structures new and old think more carefully in terms of movement around a space – in ways we never needed to before. While kickstarting the global economy and a desire to ‘get back to normal’ offers an opportunity for retailers looking to entice shoppers back across the threshold, be sure to consider how design can play a key role in the usability of a space – and surround yourself with the right people and information to help get your ‘ducks in a row’.