Since the last EuroShop in February 2011 a lot has happened in the global retail world. For most of the period the economic climate has remained tight across the developed nations and even the emerging markets have seen falls in the stellar growth levels that so many of us had become used to hearing about.
It is fair to remark however that tough times tend to act as a catalyst for change and creativity is almost always to the fore when budgets are tight and the financial director is even more unsmiling than usual. Practically, this means that there has been much change and some new trends have emerged that perhaps might not have been expected at the end of the last Euroshop.
And perhaps foremost among these has been the tendency of retailers to look beyond their immediate competitive boundaries when seeking real inspiration. Knowing what your competition is up to should, of course, be second nature for any retailer. The real challenge that seems to be shaping up as a trend across all sectors however is the ability to go into what would normally be a non-competitive retail environment and spot something that would work in an apparently out of context space.
This can be seen in retailers such as UK supermarket Tesco, which has opened in-store clothing areas that would work as standalone fashion shops and coffee shops that mirror the sort of thing more normally found in destinations such as London’s Soho or perhaps Brooklyn in New York. In effect, Tesco has looked beyond the supermarket sector horizon and spotted areas that can work in its stores.
Something of the kind can also be observed in the pop-up sector, which continues to gather strength, rather than fading as has been predicted for some time now. Two new trends are emerging here. The first is the trend towards collaboration where, for example, a brand might marry up its offer with those of others to create a destination where the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. In London this year, Vitsoe, the company that has at its heart the furniture creations of designer Dieter Rams, teamed up with Coleman Coffee Roasters and Four Corners Books to open a temporary shop that would be about relaxing in a living room where, books, coffee and contemporary furniture would be to the fore. This is typical of what is happening at the moment and the way in which brands are leveraging each other’s equity to create spaces that have real appeal.
The other point about pop-ups is that in general they are heading upmarket. It’s no longer enough to have an agitprop space in which graffiti and rough-hewn timber are allowed to do all the work. The trend can be seen at work everywhere from Paris’ Champs Elysees, where one of the major perfume houses created a pop-up that could easily have stayed up, so good looking was it, to Italian jeans brand Diesel, which occupied a site for three months on Regent Street in London this year. The latter took the form of a series of greenhouses, made, variously, of coloured glass and wood, which were spread around the store and used as display vehicles. Again, this was a pop-up that was not just interesting in its own-right, but was agenda setting for many fashion retailers - showing how a limited budget could be made to look expensive and semi-permanent.
The final major trend that seems to be taking hold across North America and Europe could be termed ‘back to the future’. It is not so long ago that the retail firmament was abuzz with news that QR codes would make everything right in terms of getting customers engaged with stores.
The showpiece for this was a demo-‘store’ on the subway in Seoul where Tesco set up a virtual shop consisting of pictures of products with an accompanying QR code that could be scanned while commuters waited for a train. Shopping would take place and consumers would be happy as it would save them going to a supermarket. The same thing can still be seen on the Barcelona subway, where there is a Sony Virtual Shop, QR code-based, but it is rarely if ever used. The truth seems to be that unaccompanied technology in a shop is unattractive and that for it to work it has to be part of a total package.
This means that it can certainly be part of the selling machine that is a shop, but its use as a selling tool in its own right looks to be a thing of the past. Instead, retailers such as HMV in the UK are looking back at their own heritage and using design elements of this to leverage a wave of nostalgia. In the HMV store at 363 Oxford Street in London, a retro shopfront has been installed, targeting the shopper of mature years who may remember this fondly.
It’s a trend that should gather strength as it permits retailers to raid their own back catalogue of store designs, while at the same time using the kind of technology that has become the norm in most retail environments. Nostalgia may not be what it used to be, as the joke has it, but it is making a pretty good attempt at staging a comeback. The other consequence of store fit-outs that look to the past, rather than the future, for inspiration, is that minimalism of the white box variety looks set to take something of a back seat, although it is unlikely that it will disappear altogether.
It is in-store ingenuity that really hits the button with consumers and that´s why EuroShop 2014 comes at the right time: It’s a place where concepts can be discussed in a direct dialogue, where retail solutions can be experienced up close. EuroShop is an invaluable source of inspiration for many companies as they embark on the path to a successful future.
Author: John Ryan, Retail Journalist (UK)