Modern Retail

Q&A: Northbanks

Northbanks

Northbanks spoke with Modern Retail about their work in creating stand-out store designs while meeting clients’ unique objectives. Here’s what the retail activation and brand experience agency had to say.

Q1. Where did the journey begin for Northbanks?

Northbanks has been going since June 2017… Despite working in world leading retail agencies, we realised more could be done to better understand clients and react to their needs.

When we take on a project, Northbanks takes the time to understand the brand, to understand their values and ethos and most importantly their demographic – this all makes for a more seamless and well thought out concept and delivery that appeals to the brand followers.

We also felt there could be a better way to work and as such we became a new wave of agency, we’re agile, flexible and reactive. However, none of this matters if the client don’t like working with you – so we try to make life very easy for our clients! They have one point of contact, and we’re a full turn-key agency, from concept through to rollout, as we’ve grown we’ve branched out more meaning we can service pretty much any project now!

Q2. How has the company adapted during the past year?

From the get go we’ve been an agile agency and as such we’ve always encouraged our employees to work from wherever it best serves them and our clients – whether that’s home, coffee shops, or co-working spaces, so in that respect not much changed!

This flexibility helps our team get the best from their day, and ultimately makes them happier.

That said, we are looking forward to returning to creative meetings at our offices in Somerset House!

In terms of adapting to a change the change in retail – unsurprisingly the last eighteen months has seen massive growth and advancements in our omnichannel and virtual technology offerings.

Q3. What role does technology play within store design?

I think we’ve all seen that tech plays an ever-important role in store design.

However, it’s vital that the technology employed in the stores needs to be relevant to the demographic. Retailers need to understand how and why shopper will interact with the technology. It needs to benefit them, otherwise they will not engage with it. It drives us crazy when we see stores with an ‘interactive’ iPad – it’s just so lazy! 82% of consumers will use their phone in a store while deciding what to buy, therefore the presence of an iPad is both needless and a waste of resources.

However, one in 10 of those people end up buying a different product than they had planned. That being said, tech can be such a versatile tool for great store design when it’s done well. For instance, we predict that even after lockdown restrictions are lifted a barrier to sale in the accessories and cosmetics industry will be a reluctance of consumers to trying on products. That’s why we’ve partnered with global tech agencies to offer magic mirrors and virtual try-ons as a way to ensure brands are able to sell as efficiently as possible post pandemic. Another way tech can help is Sustainability – which is something we’re passionate about – and it so crucial when it comes to store design, so virtual VM is a great way to avoid the waste that comes with multiple campaigns.

Looking ahead, we’re working with a number of brands on in-store fitting room tech which helps the customer brows other products but also highlight the story behind the collection- again leading to that greater customer buy-in.

Q4. What are your top three tips for designing a retail store for today’s climate?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly is experience. When non-essential physical retail re-opens, it must appeal to shoppers and entice them to leave their screens in favour of bricks and mortar. We’ve all missed immersive experiences over the past year, and when done well consumers are willing to pay up to a 16% price premium- so a good shopping experience really does increase sales. However, it goes deeper than sales, as a greater shopping experience adds value by increasing brand loyalty through encouraging the consumer to understand the ethos and makeup of the brand. The purchase can happen online but the interest in the brand or product reinforced in the store. Displays are therefore more important and should encourage customer engagement and social media sharing.

Authenticity was a movement we saw brewing before COVID, and the pandemic has expedited it – people are getting bored of the photoshopped saccharin sweet Instalife – we’re not buying into the Hollywood A-lister life anymore, instead Shoppers are aligning themselves with brands that have a strong moral code. Sustainability and ethical sourcing are just a few, but very important factors consumers consider when buying from brands, as such, the store should reflect these changing requirements and express the brand’s character and not just copy what other retail looks like. 

Lastly, we foresee the creation of a flexible retail space as a key trend post-COVID. For example, a space should be able to convert quickly for in-store events or services. Additionally, socially distancing has become ingrained into people’s minds, therefore we must expect people to wary when re-entering stores. To overcome this, stores must be prepared to allow that crucial ‘breathing space,’ which has also proven to provide a nicer, less stressful shopping experience that’s usually associated with luxury brands.

Q5. You have worked with some amazing brands. Please tell us about one of your all-time favourite projects.

Ok so where do we begin…. We’ve done some great projects with Vivienne Westwood, which are always fun and it’s a great brand to work with because they really align with our views on social and environmental responsibility.

Tonic also stands out because it was one of our first Virtual stores, which allowed us to really feel comfortable in our ability of providing a connected IRL and online service.

Estella Bartlett also has to be a highlight as we were able to help them understand and visualise what their unique brand identity will look like as they become more direct to consumer. It was a fun process to work with the client and co-create their retail concepts.

Looking ahead, we have some hugely exciting projects on the way, luxury brands want to work with us because they can benefit from our wealth of experience with digital first, emerging gen-z and millennial brands and how they really hit the mark and resonate with their followers.

Q6. What do you predict will be the next big trends in retail

The biggest takeaway should be that customers will become omnichannel customers!

Before the pandemic 87% of consumers begin their shopping journey with digital, a jump from 71% in 2017 – who knows what figure that is now! E-commerce has become and will continue to be an important revenue stream for brands so physical stores need be more than selling spaces. Stores may become smaller and more like showrooms that incorporate digital communication to support online sales or serve customers remotely. The idea of ‘popping up’ will become particularly favourable over the next year, due in large to the flexibility of shorter leases but also the press opportunities and the ability to reach a wider audience globally throughout the UK and beyond.

We also think that A.I will and should be used more extensively by retailers to give them an edge, enabling them to incorporate many of the same tactics as e-commerce retailers do in order to provide a better more personalised service. A recent study showed that over 70% of millennials felt store associates didn’t have the necessary tools to provide great customer service, such as mobile devices for looking up customer profiles and recommending products…watch this space as we continue to make retail spaces more personalised and customer-centric.

Contact Northbanks

Give us a call on +44 (0) 2079 938066 (we’re really nice!)

Or email hello@northbanks.co.uk if you’re feeling shy!

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John Abbate

With over 25 years of global experience in retail design and visual merchandising for global giants such as Ralph Lauren, Levi’s and Alfred Dunhill, John joined Northbanks in 2017 following a hugely successful 5year stint in Shanghai where he was Visual Merchandising professor at Mod’Art and then Creative Director at Design Overlay, a similar agency to Northbanks.

John is passionate about using his experience to help brands develop and implement or improve their retail brand identity.

John is also on the board of advisors at Save the High Street and a council member at the British Display Society.

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