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OPINION: Traditional retail can be interactive

Stuart Geekie, Managing Director of HMY Group (UK), talks smart fitting rooms and virtual mirrors…

Retail is in the middle of a major digital transformation, with technology constantly evolving and pushing the boundaries in order to enhance the customer’s experience and to garner intelligence for the retailer and brand.

There is often an assumption that such technological advances are not having the same impact offline as they are online.

However, the reality is that traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers have a significant opportunity to take advantage of digital developments through intelligent shop fittings.

Retailers have long recognised the importance of offering a personal, convenient and individual service to shoppers and, as such, brands must take advantage of all the information they can glean from shoppers’ interactions with their brands through digital devices.

One of the ways retailers are achieving this is through shopping apps. Fashion brands do this very well. They develop individual customer profiles that users create and with the information they have obtained, get closer to them, develop new products in line with their tastes and let them know about targeted promotions.

To offer a complete user experience, retail brands need to be integrated and make themselves present in all sales channels, to offer a complete user experience. There are aspects of shopping that users have assimilated online and now demand instore.

At HMY we believe that simply taking online shopping practices into store isn’t enough. It’s important for brands to offer something distinct and exclusive. This is where, once again, digital technologies become relevant.

Retailers are aware that if a customer takes something into a fitting room, they are far more likely to make a purchase than those who just browse the shop floor. With personalisation and convenience in mind, at HMY we are also witnessing an increasing interest in interactive shopping.

Smart fitting rooms

Early adopters of the smart fitting room include Ralph Lauren’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue and American retail icon, Bloomingdales. Smart fitting rooms are fitted with technology that automatically detect which items shoppers takes into a cubicle to try on.  How? Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are attached to price tags.

The RFID readers offer additional information on the selected product: sizes and colours available, and recommendations on additional products to promote cross-sales.

If the client needs a different size or colour, or wants one of the suggested recommendations, he or she may request them through the smart fitting room. The salesperson will receive a signal with their request and bring the garments to the fitting room.

The advantages for the retailer are clear; smart fitting room technology increases cross-selling opportunities and improves the customer shopping experience for the end user.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

The virtual mirror is a new, functional way for customers to try on clothing without getting undressed.

As its name suggests, the smart virtual mirror acts as a virtual fitting room, combining RFID technology with augmented reality. The customer brings the garment to the mirror, which identifies the item, adapting it and superimposing the image of the person reflected in the mirror. The garments follow the body’s movements with a totally real simulation.

It also provides information on available sizes and colours and makes suggestions on matching garments to promote cross-sales.

For the retailer, this provides the perfect opportunity for cross-selling, reduces waiting room queues and for the customer, provides a convenient, quick hassle-free, fun shopping experience.

HMY Solutions is a leading group in the engineering, design, manufacturing and fitting of retail interiors. Find out more at https://hmy-group.com.

Old Street Station

OPINION: Why Primark is bucking retail’s downward trend and thriving on today’s high street

Despite tough trading for most non-food retailers, Primark is reporting growth and continuing to expand. Sarah Davis, Colin Walsh and Adam Taylor from the Prosper team share their thoughts on why, and what they are getting right…

The business pages are painting a gloomy post-Christmas picture of retail trading on the high street. The British Retail Consortium reports of the worst performance of non-food sales since record began and stalwart stores such as Marks & Spencer and Next have posted falling store sales. Shares in Debenhams have also plummeted again, with analysts speculating that it may suffer the same fate as BHS.

Bucking the downward trend

Primark is among the few clothing retailers bucking that trend and reporting growth. Sales at the budget fashion chain were up by 7% in the four months to 6 January, which follows a strong summer performance, where it reported a 10% surge in like-for-like UK sales.

Primark’s strong end to 2017 means it’s likely to overtake Next to become the UK’s second largest clothing retailer behind Marks & Spencer. It’s even more interesting that Primark is outperforming rivals when it does not sell online, the source of most sales growth in the sector.

Still expanding

When other retailers are rationalising and closing down stores, Primark continues to expand. Primark has opened several new stores across Germany in recent months and one in Portugal. In the UK, it has opened in Charlton, returned to Oxford’s redeveloped Westgate shopping centre and moved into a larger store in Rotherham.

So what factors have made Primark such a leading retailer on today’s high street? Prosper’s Associate Director, Sarah Davis, Head of Branding Colin Walsh and Senior Interior Designer Adam Taylor give their opinions on what’s behind Primark’s success.

Appealing offering and clear positioning

“Primark has established itself as the deserved leader of affordable fast fashion for all. In tough times when disposable income is squeezed, Primark allows people to stay on trend on a budget,” explains Walsh.

“As a brand Primark is clear about its offer and what it stands for, so delivers that with confidence. The chain has played a key role in making affordable fashion both acceptable and desirable,” adds Taylor.

Quality of store environment

Although Primark is a budget store, it doesn’t look like it or speak to its consumers that way. “Primark stores deliver a shopping experience that is more premium than many consumers would expect at this price point,” continues Taylor. “Primark has led the way in showing that affordable fashion doesn’t have to equal budget store fits. Now other players are following suit, such as Polish retailer Reserved, who just opened its first UK store.”

“Primark stores are modern, clean and airy, plus considered in the details, be it the colours, materials or the retail fixtures, to create a place in which people want to shop in and dwell,” explains Davis.

Timeless branding and wide appeal

“Primark also has strong brand equity and appeal” says Walsh. “The Primark logo itself is understated and timeless, its packaging/labels/POS is considered. Even the swing tags feel premium.” That helps maintain broad appeal – Primark does something for everyone very well. 

“Primark covers the complete consumer spectrum,” continues Walsh. “It doesn’t just concentrate on young female fashionistas but also appeals equally well to the less fashion-conscious budget shopper.”

“Men can buy a good quality, well fitted suit and shoes at Primark that competes with the likes of M&S. Teenagers with pocket money can spend it on clothes, make-up and jewellery rather than sweets or toys, and are more sophisticated in their tastes than ever before.” 

Less brands, more individualism

“Not that long ago, big brands were king and it was cool to be seen in logo wear. Consumers defined themselves by the brands they wore, which was very status driven,” says Taylor.

“Now there is a new, more savvy breed of consumer who doesn’t want to be a human brand billboard but instead recognised for their individuality,” Walsh continues. “It’s more about brand mix – there’s a strength in not knowing if someone has been shopping in Primark, Topshop or a premium brand.” 

Letting customers do the advertising

This new type of consumer is also happy to promote where they’ve bought their items. “Primark has grown in the age of social media where people want to share their look on Instagram or their blogs, and are proud to say it’s from Primark,” says Walsh.

Primark even states this in its Mission Statement: “We target millennials through non-traditional marketing tactics by using minimal advertising and utilising social media and word of mouth promotion.”

This also explains how Primark can be successful without doing ecommerce in a digital age. Instead the chain engages customers on their Primania website section. By not having big advertising campaigns or ecommerce, Primark keeps overheads low to maintain affordable prices. 

Agile and responsive to trends… and customers

Another strength is being agile and always evolving in today’s fast-paced world.  “Primark is always aware of the latest trends – globally and locally – and constantly evolves its store designs to keep on trend, or even lead the trend,” says Davis. “They aren’t afraid to try new things.”

Other retailers are ceding market share to Primark, not just because of cost, but also slow adaptability and arrogance too. Primark listens to its consumers and adapts their offering accordingly, which earns them loyalty.

From all the reasons above, it’s clear that it’s far more than lower prices driving Primark’s continued success.

If you would like to find out more about Prosper’s work in retail design, interiors and architecture, please visit www.madebyprosper.com