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The future of the high street – and the role of savvy interior design

With European high streets well-and-truly open for business once more, businesses the world over continue to reassess their interior design configurations. Whether it’s overhauling a traditional retail store layout or re-evaluating a close-quarters café culture – the design of places where people cross paths is now under constant review.

Last month, Kirsty Shearer, our development director, spoke to Tomorrow’s FM to explore what changes we can expect as we continue to embrace the concept of a ‘new normal’.

If you missed the original article, you can catch up below…

Although there is an underlying eagerness to get back to some form of normality, the question remains as to whether city centre hotspots will see the same level of demand – or if consumers will instead choose to browse and buy from the comfort of their own homes.

As the media continues to report on the struggles – and closures – of many household names, for those looking to entice buyers back through the door, it’s important to make sure all your ducks are in a row, as the saying goes.

This time last year, for example, shoppers wouldn’t have given a second thought to strolling through the aisles of a department store and rifling through rails of clothes, or sitting down at a coffee shop table just seconds after it had been vacated. However, the past six months have changed all that.

No matter the size, nature or ambition of retailers though, there are opportunities for bricks and mortar buildings to encourage buyers to return to the shop floor – and that is where sensible architecture, design and layout can play their part.


Let the light in

Eye-catching window displays are synonymous with any modern high street and, as the first visual port-of-call, can provide crucial insight as to what’s beyond the exterior.

Glazed storefronts offer the perfect shop window – quite literally – to showcase your COVID-combatting commitments. For now, it’s sensible to forgo oversized ‘sale’ signs for window graphics which clearly communicate any social distancing directions.

For the post-pandemic shopper, it’s important to remember too that the decision to enter a store or café may be based purely on a quick health and safety assessment from beyond the glass. Therefore, structural glazing may be an option to consider.


Sensible stock layouts

Once inside, any regular shopper would ordinarily be used to seeing shelves, rails and product displays piled high with different variants of, essentially, the same product. While this might have provided a wealth of choice in the past, now it’s in danger of offering more surfaces for people to touch – and putting off buyers from the moment they step foot inside.

Investing in a suitable, fit out needn’t be costly either. Simple reorganisation of existing infrastructure, clever construction of display units, as well as a considered route throughout the building will all help.

If anything, the reconfiguration of stores can offer an opportunity to develop a more experiential retail environment for customers too. A move from a store-equals-stockroom mentality, and a ‘less is more’ approach can create a much more visually appealing shopping environment akin to an art gallery.


Hospitality shouldn’t be inhospitable

For many, a day on the high street will also involve a break for a bite to eat or quick drink. And while caterers quickly adapted to offer takeaway or delivery options, seated areas are slowly beginning to reopen too.

While the number of ‘covers’ has been drastically reduced, our work with international burger chain, Five Guys, has highlighted innovative ways to make the most of the space available – while keeping servers safe at all times.

If feasible, a covered outdoor seating area may provide additional opportunities to serve customers – so considering any areas ‘out back’ which can be adapted, or discussing options with the local council, landlord or neighbouring tenants about working together to provide a ‘communal shopfront’ could be a good place to start.


Brand personality is key

There has been adequate time to prepare for the reopening of stores, therefore, this period of change doesn’t mean business owners should settle for offering a sub-standard customer experience – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

While most shoppers will accept marginal disruption to their weekly grocery run, when it comes to ‘non-essential’ purchases, consumers are understandably cautious with their capital and want to feel as though they are getting adequate return on investment.

Something as simple as branded sanitiser stations and complimentary PPE on entry – such as a facemask and/or gloves – can help to instil much-needed confidence in visitors and will reiterate your commitment to customers’ and colleagues’ experience – and health.


Don’t forget the bathrooms

It’s important not to overlook communal hygiene facilities either. Regular hand washing is one of the key components in reducing transmission of the virus.

Therefore, rather than simply closing public bathrooms for the foreseeable future, the installation of automatic flushes, taps and hand dryers, as well as sanitiser dispensers beside the entry and exit, can be key in reducing the number of surfaces at risk.

Underpinning a desired to ‘get back to normal’ lies a sense of trepidation – and a question mark over how safe ‘normal’ now is. No matter what area of the high street you operate in, now is the time to show empathy, adaptability and a willingness to work together in order to make customers and colleagues feel safe.

Understanding such reservations and taking the necessary steps to provide a hassle-free experience will not only encourage a return visit, but likely set the stage for wider endorsement to friends and family – something which money can’t buy.  

Get in touch with Agilité Solutions today to find out how we can help you with your post-pandemic office fitout.

We work with:
Tiffany & Co.
BMI Group
Deutsche Börse Group
Fred Perry
Skin Laundry
Five Guys
JD Sports
Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Sollers Consulting
Hauser & Wirth
Saatchi Gallery
Instant Group
Singapore Airlines