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Stores of the Future

The Retail Exchange

The Retail Exchange Podcast: Exploring Stores of the Future 2.0

Hosted by BBC journalist and broadcaster Declan Curry, episode one of The Retail Exchange podcast was titled ‘Stores of the Future 2.0’ and featured an experienced panel of leading retail professionals.

The panel discussed the continued trend amongst leading retailers to launch ‘Store of the Future’ concepts, and if in reality these stores really do provide a glimpse into the future of retail. They also delved into the subject of concept stores being blighted by a ‘launch and leave’ syndrome, and whether greater focus be placed on delivering retail transformation in-store, everyday.


Karl McKeever

managing director, Visual Thinking

Paul West

strategy director, Dalziel and Pow

James Breaks

associate director of design, the rpa:group

Nathan Watts

creative director, FITCH


Here are some highlights of the discussion:

What is the role of stores of the future?

‘It really comes down to what the role of the brand is and what the customer needs are. There’s a real mix of things that the store of the future has to fulfil,’ says Paul West, strategy director, Dalziel and Pow.

‘I think it depends on why a store of the future is being proposed in the first place, and of course there a number of motivations why brands might do this,’ says Karl McKeever, managing director of Visual Thinking. ‘Sometimes it’s for pure reinfiguration purposes. Perhaps a new management team recognise that things need to be done and focusing the organisation around a store of the future project is a good way to actually create a point of motivation for all of the teams to think about how they are going to create transformational change.’ He notes that’s not the only reason. Some brands may embark on a store of the future project purely because they are trying to prep a business for sale.

Are stores of the future trying to do too much?

‘I think the list, as Paul said, is very much brand specific and dependent on the objectives they need to pursue; whether there are commercial objectives, customer objectives or brand obectives. However, fundamentally the one thing that any store of the future project has got to tackle is innovation, they can be a catalyst for change and it’s a way of getting the organisation to think about itself and from a new perspective,’ believes McKeever.

James Breaks, associate director of design, the rpa:group, agrees: ‘One of the key things that we’ve seen recently is this idea of showrooming. The physical space may not actually be the key driver of those sales, but what is important is it’s a very real touch point for those products and services being offered. That’s incredibly important for any customer to make that connection and drive a real relationship between the brand and the customer.’

‘That sounds like the present rather than the future,’ interjects Curry. ‘Absolutely. Unless you can engage at a fundamental level with your customer, then any gloss on top of that is smoke and mirrors,’ adds Breaks.

Are stores of the future really giving us a tantilising glimpse of the future?

‘I think for many people the future is moving very quickly and they are seeking reassurance in more familiar aspects of retail; the neighbourhood vs the mall, the social space vs the big shiny flagships,’ answers West.

As consumers of content online, West says we don’t go back to the same blogs and feeds everyday if it has the same content. ‘I think opening a store and thinking about it almost like a magazine or a website with constant updates and activities and social experiences, all of that together gives us more of a glimpse of the store of the future as opposed to pecking at iPads.’

‘We cant take the customer out of this discussion; they are absolutely at the core of it. The store of the future has to engage with them, and has to learn from them otherwise it’s a totally wasted experiment,’ notes Curry.

‘The role of the store is changing but it’s still the best channel to deliver an empathetic position, a human element and an experiential element of that brand. It provides a sensorial touch point for the customer,’ says Nathan Watts, creative director at FITCH. ‘It is absolutely fundamental that stores of the future do have that capacity to flex, evolve and change because it seems to be even more important that any store environment that is built for the future has the ability to evolve. They need to be more than just a place to sell things, but a place to host events and demonstrate something different to the customer.’

Breaks agrees: ‘Customers these days are far more evolved themselves. Generation Z will not put up with any shallow impressions of being engaged with. They’ll dismiss it outright and will go and find the next opportunity to express themselves. I think if you are an evolving brand, you’re taking that time to understand your customer’s needs and you’re looking at the environment.’

Are we paying enough attention to the shopper on the ground?

‘I think there is a shift; we’re not expecting customers to just necessarily be buying products, it’s more about what can I achieve with you as a brand. I think we have to be realistic about what we mean about future stores. There are many disruptive technologies that are changing the way that people are buying services and goods beyond just the physical retail environment. I think one of the most interesting examples out there that does feel genuinely of the future is Amazon Go,’ says Watts.

One part of it is understanding what customers need, so if you can deliver on that then that’s great. The other side of the equation is delivering something that customers can be wowed by; that they haven’t decided they want yet, notes West.

Watts mentions Nike Town on Oxford Street as a great example: ‘It has a very clear, distinct role within the entire estate of Nike in the UK and arguably around the world where Nike Towns exist. It has a clear role as a beacon for that brand and I think it represents future vision for that retailer and there may be some elements that drip down to the network elsewhere.’

The purpose of the store of the future is to be an inspiration

‘It’s an inspiration, it’s also an important aspect for the people of their brand to see that they are. They have an aspiration as a brand to move forward and that’s a big rallying call for the retailer and its people,’ says Watts.

Breaks supports this: ‘Absolutely. Store associates of late have become brand ambassadors. They are experts and this is part of that shift in where we see the store of the future going. We need to radically rethink about their role and how they drive that brand forward.’

He notes Raffa’s club style retail space as a wonderful example, with its incredible cafe where you can sit amongst all these experts. ‘That genuine engagement; it’s that precious element that every store of the future is going to need to really perpeptuate,’ says Breaks.

‘We’ve become so desensitised to the new and latest thing, that it’s almost become an everyday expectation. This is why we are moving back to disruptive retailing to make a point of difference. Moving back to ditraction, that’s why you see Adidas creating knitwear and Nike starting to create on-the-premises printed, personalised products. It’s those things that are causing the point of difference and not necessarily the hardware and the software themselves,’ concludes Breaks.

You can download the full podcast at