• Insights Transform Existing Formats

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Why transforming an existing retail format might be a better idea than starting from scratch

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Retailers and brands the world over are trying to adapt to the rapidly changing world around us. There are serious disruptions all playing out at once: increasing online growth; downturn in Chinese consumption and production; confusion over Trump and Brexit. These factors are all feeding uncertainty in an increasingly complex landscape. Unsurprisingly, we’ve seen store closures, staff layoffs, declining footfall and falling in-store sales.

Historically, retail doesn’t sit and wait. The industry responds, reacts and picks up the pieces. But has this once-trailblazing mentality finally come to an end? Are today’s data-driven retailers more cautious than ever?

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Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

In the past few years, technological transformation, changing demographics and demanding customers have driven many retailers to explore new retail formats. It’s easy to understand the allure. A fresh, surprising new format can be inspiring and infectious — it can boost your brand, your bottom line and perhaps even make the world a slightly better place.

We get it. And we love working with teams to create new retail formats — flagships, themed stores, pop ups, kiosks or other physical retail experiences. There’s always a great sense of accomplishment when we help to make these projects a reality.

In good times, when budgets are free-flowing, exploring new, alternative formats in different locations is considered good distribution strategy, a must-do. However, when times are tough and money tight, businesses tend to think long and hard before deciding on their next steps.

Creating an operational model that works for the 21st century seems the most critical part of the agenda. While businesses adjust to digital transformation and omnichannel selling, their retail teams are desperately trying to figure out what this all means for physical stores and the wider retail estate. In a climate of such uncertainty, creating an entirely new format may not make strategic or commercial sense.

Today, more and more clients are asking us for recommendations on how to adapt and transform the stores they already have to make them more relevant and compelling. This makes total sense. In order to understand where you are going, you first need to understand where you are now.

Just as you put your car through an annual MOT or sit in the dentist’s chair for your six-monthly check-up, it’s worth giving your store format a health check on a regular basis. Compare it to doing some essential spring cleaning, the traditional time of year for refreshing our homes and lives, setting ourselves up for the months to come. We hold on to things that matter and jettison what we don’t need. This simple process makes us feel empowered and in control. We’re energised, ready for the next set of challenges.

A deep understanding of your existing format is a good starting point.

A Retail Experience Audit can diagnose problems, identify opportunities, and give you strategic direction towards the future. This will help prioritise interventions that align with your business needs.

We help our clients by approaching every challenge through the lenses of business, brand, customers and staff. This holistic view means we can help clients understand the value and impact of transforming an existing format versus designing an entirely new format.

We always start with a retail experience audit, tailored to suit the business’ needs. The audit looks at what’s working well, what could work harder and where the gaps are. It provides clients with strategic and tactical recommendations for the short, medium and long term, as they drive towards their future objectives.

Here are some key areas where a retail experience audit can help you:

1/ Identifying exactly what you have to work with

If you’re in a new role and need to get up to speed, a retail experience audit might be just what you need. Your gut instinct is one thing, but you need external validation. Your new team may have spent years developing the current format and are so involved they find it difficult (if not impossible) to identify issues and opportunities. A retail experience audit helps you understand your current position.

2/ Knowing the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’

The business has identified an issue using traditional retail metrics. This could be declining footfall, falling sales or low customer engagement — however, they haven’t found out why these results are happening. To understand what medicine (design recommendations) to prescribe, you must understand the causes, not just the symptoms. A retail experience audit dives deep to explore why these problems exist.

3/ Using an objective eye to see more clearly

You can’t read the label from inside the jar. A retail experience audit by an external agency gives you independent, impartial expert opinion on your current retail experience. Your professionalism and due diligence will garner trust and approval from your peers and board members.

4/ Building confidence and togetherness

Knowing where you are builds assurance and alignment between internal teams and key stakeholders. A retail experience audit provides documentation and analysis (the tools) to help communicate challenges and opportunities to your wider business. These tools can help you articulate the principles that matter, so you can win over people who may not understand the value of design thinking. This holistic view can help you secure future budgets and plan ahead.

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Your store format is worth regular health checks and constant support.

5/ Finding out whether your format is future proofed

Colleagues in product or service development have asked you to deliver a new offer within the existing store format. They could have given you some warning, shared the business roadmap with you. But they didn’t! Where do you find space? What has to move, what has to flex, and what gets left out? We don’t have space in the store to accommodate a new product category or service offer. A retail experience audit looks at how the format is currently future proofed and how this can be improved to accommodate myriad eventualities.

6/ Prioritising low, medium and high interventions

A new format is an expensive undertaking and takes a considerable time to get off the ground and into stores. Sometimes you just don’t have that timeframe or budget. A retail experience audit recommends a variety of low, medium and high level design interventions that can have immediate or future impact on your existing format.

7/ Assessing how your brand promise is brought to life

When your brand has a refresh, it’s essential to update all the branded moments as soon as possible. With a renewed purpose, your existing stores should be a beacon for the new brand. This could be just a new colour palette, a new version of the logo, or a refined brand promise and customer focus. A retail experience audit explores how the new brand promise is brought to life in an existing store.

8/ Identifying how your format fits with the estate strategy

Too often, a new format concept doesn’t address the broader picture. A new concept needs to be value-designed and right for a larger-scale rollout and broader distribution strategy. A retail experience audit identifies key elements that underpin the design vision and makes effective recommendations that don’t detract from the overall in-store experience.

EE Case Study: The catalyst for EE’s integrated retail strategy Quinine recently worked with EE on a retail experience audit of their store estate. We were asked to identify what steps might be taken to meet future customer expectations. There was also a range of specific requests, most notably, how could their stores best handle mobile transactions? We presented a suite of recommendations. These included a mix of small to large interventions that could be rolled out within their 600+ stores overnight, as well as a vision for what the EE store of the future could be like. This audit became the catalyst for the new showcase store format that launched in late 2017.

Out with the old? Not necessarily …

Creating a new retail format can make life easier and more comfortable. But life isn’t that simple anymore. In today's climate, transforming your existing format may well be a more viable alternative, with the potential to bring great value to the business, brand, customers and staff.

What you may lose in glamour you gain elsewhere. Expand the capabilities of your existing format, strengthen its operations, improve the overall look and feel, and ultimately you will create a better customer experience and increase your ROI.

Never underestimate the power of design thinking and the retail experience audit. These are irresistible forces that can transform perceived obstacles into clear pathways and greater opportunities.

Please get in touch if you’d like to understand more about how Quinine can help you transform your existing retail store format or carry out a retail experience audit. To arrange a meeting call Ian Johnston on 0203 468 9222 or email ian@quininedesign.com

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