Out & About: Retail Design Expo 2018

Retail Design Expo returned to Olympia London last week with a new layout, four seminar theatres of great speakers, student and VM awards, and an innovation trail. Listening to many of the seminar speakers across the two days, one theme was discussed over and over – the importance of staff and face-to-face communication. The importance of humans in retail.

The buzzword of 'experience', as you would expect, popped up in every seminar session. Quinine, who sponsored the Retail Design and Branding Case Study Conference, took guests on the journey of its work with the EE Showcase stores (read more about the stores here).


'We believe in physical retail and face-to-face interaction with customers,' said Matt Price, head of commercial development and store design at EE when speaking alongside Ian Johnston, founder and creative director at Quinine. 'Focus on staff. Our happy staff create happy customers,' he said.

The duo went on to say that there is no algorithm that can replace good old fashioned face-to-face, and staff create unique and personalised experiences. 'Staff make the brand experience come to life. Value them!' said Johnston. 'Consider the store as a beautiful workplace.'

The EE Showcase stores feature a variety of seating options, creating more opportunities for staff and customer interactions. 'Create service without barriers,' said Price.


A panel discussion followed on later in the day, discussing 'The Future of Shopping Centres – It's All About Customer Experiences, Making Places Not Filling Spaces', moderated by William Kistler, executive vice president & managing director - EMEA, International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

Gabriel Murray, COO of Studio48, said 'Human interaction is vital in retail.' He said 'everyone in retail needs to take viagra and reinvigorate retail.' He followed on to say 'the way to solve retail is through design and human touch.' Tom Nathan, general manager at Brent Cross Shopping Centre, said: 'The future is the customer – understanding her today and predicting her tomorrow.'


Tim Greenhalgh, chairman & chief creative officer of FITCH, presented 'The Future of Shopping Will Be Service.... Not Retail'. He said 'service is a priority and service is changing.' A very poignant statement stuck in my mind that Greenhalgh said: 'Retail is no longer about what can I buy from you, it's about what can I achieve from you.' And it's those retailers who can fulfill that expectation from the customer that will succeed. They can't afford to remain as is. 'Service used to be the side dish, now it's the main course,' he continued.

He noted the work of Prufrock Coffee on Leather Lane, which has launched a 'disloyalty card' and encourages customers to try out eight other coffee shops in the area before coming back to Prufrock. 'This is genius! It increases loyalty!' enthused Greenhalgh.


On day two, Karl McKeever, founder & managing director of Visual Thinking, presented alongside Emma Fox, CEO of The Original Factory Shop on their new store format based on the POP Programme (presentation, operations and performance). At the heart of the business are the people and a sense of community. 'Community is a tool you can leverage to bring a proposition to life,' said McKeever.

'We need to put the customer at the heart of everything we do,' said Fox. The business is built on four key values:

1. Get the job done
2. Understand the customer
3. One-team joined up working
4. Have fun

'You can't have a successful business without empowered staff,' said Fox. 'Stores are one thing, but people make it live and breathe.'

The Original Factory Shop has recently given all it's employees their birthday off as annual leave. 'Put people at the heart of the business and you won't go wrong,' concluded McKeever.


Howard Sullivan, creative director and co-founder of YourStudio, presented the experience design agency's work with Virgin Holidays alongside Dan Buckingham, head of retail at the travel company. Sullivan compared retail yesterday with retail tomorrow:

Retail yesterday                        Retail tomorrow
Transactional                            Hedonistic
Product centric                          People centric
Spectator                                  Participant

Buckingham also stressed the importance of staff to the business, which offers its staff free flights to go and experience the destinations they are offering customers. 'It's a real people business,' said Sullivan, who noted four key trends during the talk:

1. Immersive playscapes
2. Approachable luxury
3. Retail sanctuaries
4. Intuitive connections

In the latest Virgin Holidays v-room store concept at St David's in Cardiff, a VR rollercoaster takes shoppers on a journey through outer space to Las Vegas. They can also try out seats from upper classes and eat and drink cuisine from the destinations on offer. Sensorial retail is an important aspect of the new Virgin Holidays format, which you can read more about here. It's all about 'tasting your holiday'.


Sullivan's business partner, Tom Philipson, presented a piece the day before alongside colleague Tom Edington, providing an insight into Topshop's Splash! VR experience and the Pandora Hive project in Sydney.


It was standing room only for Davy Pittoors, VM manager at Louis Vuitton, who discussed key trends for 2018 and selected several key retailers who he believes are ahead of their game. Examples mentioned included Selfridges' ongoing refurbishment making the shopper journey cleaner and easier to find things; Harrods' Shoe Heaven; and Blue Mountain Schoolin Shoreditch. He described the latter as 'a retail destination'. He said 'this is where retail is going. We're going to want to get more fine-tuned and personalised experiences.'


Chris Booth, associate creative director at The LEGO Group, took guests on a journey of bringing the LEGO Ninjago movie to life in retail. With play at the forefront of LEGO's proposition, interaction was key for the movie roll out in stores. Children were encouraged to take a photo wearing the ninja masks, as well as use the leaflet provided to create a backdrop for their home builds and share on the LEGO community. Kids could also use augmented reality to get a virtual photo with Lloyd the ninja.


What was even cooler was Booth's last slide... Although I'm not sure why he takes a gun to work? Maybe to keep the bird in line if it gets too rowdy... or the snake.


On the exhibitor floor, the show welcomed first time exhibitors such as Northbanks Design, Ledridge and Roar Creativity.


FITCH greeted visitors at the entrance with an interactive installation that grew over the two-day show.

Emotions and sensorial


Creative agency ROAR took visitors on a journey of emotions and surfaces through four booths. The company has spent more than a decade using design to make people think, feel and behave a certain way, and demonstrated the power of different materials to do just that. Lightboxes, supplied by Unibox, showcased different scenarios such as rain drumming on a bus shelter, a blasting furnace, sunshine refracted through crystals and the adrenaline of speed.


ROAR Emotions is a project born from years of research into theories of emotion and how feelings are inextricably linked with colour, imagery and materials. The project is an exploration into how to change emotional states without saying a word.


Kate Nightingale, founder of Style Psychology, presented an interesting talk on the impact of colours, smells, sounds and materials on the shopper journey. The insightful presentation revealed a few tips for retailers. 'We are more generous when things are warm to touch,' said Nightingale, suggesting that serving hot drinks in store can boost sales.


The use of water is also an interesting one. 'We gather around water - we feel safe around it,' she said. The power of scent in store is also important: 'The brain doesn't like conflict, especially when it comes to scent.' She also went on to say that 'scent tells us where to go - it streamlines our decisions.'

Even shapes can have an impact on our state of minds as customers. Apparently us humans have a preference for round shapes.

Shapes and cut-outs


Speaking of shapes, the show was full of them. Kesslers chose a hexagonal framework for its stand, which was made from wood.


Outform Valley returned to RDE with cut out lettering in wood.


Design4Retail's stand with an open roof concept.


ROAR's booths featured different shaped light boxes.

Materials & Finishes


JPMA showcased a variety of metallic finishes for fixtures and fittings, some of which are currently being utilised by Ted Baker.


Surface Styling offers access to over 12,000 products from more than 40 leading surface material brands, supported by a 24-48 hour sampling service.



Mirri went large at RDE, showcasing a new 3.2m Mirri sheet size by Celloglass




Caesar bought its Italian fair to the show with a variety of surfacing solutions.





Hi-Macs solid surface material by LG Hausys




Tarkett invited visitors to experience three different pop-up micro structures, showcasing Tarkett's customisation services and new product launches for 2018, including the new Cementi Click.



Glitter aplenty on the Muraspec and bbrown stand

Interact & explore


Surface Styling encouraged visitors to leave a message or doodle.


The Quinine theatre walls grew over the two-day show with wise words from visitors offering their definition of 'what is experiential retail?'


Creative production agency Kokoon transforms retail environments with campaign installations that include window displays, in store launch zones and experiential builds. The company created this intriguing installation that invited you in to explore further...



Another installation that invited visitors to share their thoughts on what retail looks like.


Is the prize at the end that jar of sweets?



VR headsets popped up in a few places.


Quinine took visitors on a tour of the EE Showcase store concept, and has been using VR to aid the design process.



Amongst the lighting companies was first-time exhibitor Ledridge, which created a beautiful effect with blue LEDs, demonstrating the company's bespoke service.

SDEA Best Stand Award




Kendu took home the SDEA's Best Stand Award, and was indeed a very worthy winner looking at the thinking behind the stand concept, which showcased a sensory experience using Flowbox, a new generation of LED displays that combines printed tension fabrics with motion effects and dynamic animation.


Retail Design Student Awards

For 2018, students from six colleges took part, with those from Ravensbourne, Glasgow, Huddersfield, Westminster,  Manchester Metropolitan University and London Metropolitan University, being respectively mentored and supported by:

Tim Greenhalgh, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of FITCH
Ross Hunter, Director of Graven Images
Lloyd Blakey, Founder and Creative Director of Innovare Design
Howard Sullivan, Creative Director of Your Studio
Helen Shelley, Creative Director of MWorldwide
Jon Lee, Creative Director of 20.20

Entrants from Ravensbourne and Glasgow worked on a live brief from KFC, those from Huddersfield and Westminster worked on a live brief from Kingfisher, while Machester Metropolitan University and London Metropolitan University tackled a brief set by Red or Dead.

Winners of the Retail Design World Student Awards were Alise Jozepaa from Glasgow School of Art for the KFC brief, Frida Good from University of Westminster for the Red or Dead brief and Phoebe Williams from University of Huddersfield for the Kingfisher brief.

VM Awards

Beauty & Cosmetics - Neom
Best Use of Digital in Visual Merchandising - Vodafone
DIY, Homewares & Garden Centres - Pentatonic
Grocery (including supermarkets, food and drink) - Kinder Surprise
Sports Goods, Toys, Hobbies & Pet Care - lululemon - Breathe It All In campaign
IT, Telecomms & Electronics - Vodafone
Shopping Centres, Town Centres & Airports - SM Aura Premier - Christmas Under The Sea
Most Outstanding Feature or Prop - SM Aura Premier - Christmas Under The Sea
Fashion, Footwear & Jewellery - Michael Kors - Watches
Department Stores - ABC SAL
Grand Prix Award - ABC SAL


For me, Ian Johnston, founder and creative director at Quinine, summed up where we are at the moment when quoting this ancient Chinese proverb: 'Tell me I forget; show me and I'll remember; involve me and I understand.' Until next year.


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