Karl in Convenience Store magazine

If you were thumbing through the latest issue of Convenience Store magazine last week, you may have noticed Karl’s name featured, as he shared his thoughts on the tactics that convenience retailers can use to improve retail effectiveness and shopper engagement.

Read the full article here

Karl returns to TV in BBC2 series, Alex Polizzi – The Fixer

Featuring in the third consecutive series of BBC2’s The Fixer, presented by Alex Polizzi, Karl and his dedicated project team at Visual Thinking worked their magic on family businesses in need of guidance to improve the customer experience and increase retail performance.

For the final episode of the series, TV production company Twofour sought Karl’s retail expertise and advice to help Wimbledon-based pet store, Creature Company, find ways to reinvigorate the store and customer experience, in order to realise its long-term commercial ambitions.

Missed it? Watch again here

Read the full case study in Retail Focus magazine here

Karl in Stadia Magazine – Retail win-win

This month, Karl was asked by Stadia Magazine to share his thoughts on how sports venue retail concession spaces can add real value to the visitor experience, and apply retail best practice to push performance and develop brand loyalty.

Read his opinion article in full below:

Anyone who works in sport knows that success is hard won. Retail can be just as unforgiving. So, while sports teams may enjoy a level of loyalty that is far from the reach of your average high street retailer, stadia and arenas keen to invest in concession space and improve retail performance can still learn much from established retail practices.

Soccer, the national game in the UK, is often linked to the phrase “a game of two-halves” – in which each half of the match has a very a different character. Most sporting venues are also divided into two distinct periods – fixture and non-fixture trading days.

When sports venues draw their biggest crowds, shopping is invariably not the main event. As a result, dwell time in-store is often limited, with customers more focused on finding their seats and soaking up the atmosphere. However, outside of the big event, retail concession spaces can help venues to establish themselves as a genuine destination and meeting place. This requires concessions to exhibit a warmth and personality that invites people in – making them feel welcome and encouraging them to stay.

To achieve this balance, venues need to create a shopping environment that is commercially and visually focused towards the needs of the shopper. This means learning to ‘think like a customer’, developing a critical-eye and embarking upon the relentless pursuit of the highest retail standards.

Visual merchandising’s (VM) role in delivering retail success is often thought to be limited to creating impactful window displays. It’s not. Put simply, effective VM encompasses everything from store layout and product merchandising to point-of-sale (POS), choice of fixtures, price ticketing and even good housekeeping. For me, it is, and always has been, about delivering a truly great brand and customer experience at every touchpoint along the shopping journey.

Within sports retail concessions, as within department stores and malls, many of the general principles of retail apply, in that an effective promotional layout will drive footfall and additional sales. With tens of thousands of people descending on concessions in such a concentrated period of time, bad retail practices can quickly be exposed such as weak layout planning, poor use of space and inefficient customer flow. These can make concession spaces far from practical, or enjoyable to shop.

Retail concessions can help divide physical space into different specialists zones, giving visitors a clear destination for their needs. But, more importantly, they can allow customers to clearly segment product offers and present them with small groups of product choices – essential to securing sales conversion when customers have limited time to give to their shopping mission.

Promotional space must also make sense – customers can be easily influenced if they are presented with logical promotions that they feel they must buy. And, importantly, displays must be able to support the day’s sales while maintaining visual presentation standards. Visually poor displays will negatively impact on the shopping experience and, ultimately, damage the wider venue brand. POS must also be implemented correctly or it may drastically weaken the impact and purpose of promotional messages.

Increased visitor footfall also brings with it the need to maintain POS standards doubly hard. Disheveled displays won’t show products at their best – resulting in lost sales. It is also important to add uniformity to the retail experience within a venue without detracting from the individual identities of the brands operating concessions. Furthermore, the overall space has to offer an environment within which each individual brand is allowed to express itself.

The most important thing to remember is that retail success, like any team sport, is often a result of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Retail teams with the knowledge and skills needed to implement improved product presentation standards, can be the cornerstone of enhancing the brand experience, inspiring customers and driving sales.

To see the original article, click here

Karl in El Pais

If you happened to visit Spain before Christmas, you may have read his comment in daily newspaper El Pais talking about retail psychology and the shopping experience.

El Pais journalist Leticia Garcia approached him for comment on the back of the high profile international VM work that he and his team at Visual Thinking have completed for several leading retail brands in recent months. For those of you in the UK or elsewhere in the world who didn’t see it, he offered retail insight on the influence of visual merchandising on shopper engagement and, in the ever-evolving world of multichannel retailing, the need for brands to provide shoppers with real reasons to visit a store and encourage them to browse in new ways.

Click here to see the full article

Just another winter’s sale?

The festive season just wouldn’t be the same without the post-Christmas sales.

Even before the last of the Christmas Day turkey had been digested, some shoppers were preparing to brave the queues to pick up a bargain. One store manager we spoke to talked of how some shoppers had been waiting outside Highcross Leicester since 11pm on Christmas Day night, to ensure that they were first in line to benefit from big retailer discounts. Whilst we weren’t gripped by the post-Christmas sales to quite that extent, our own Boxing Day store visits provided an interesting insight into differing approaches to both communicating and managing end of year retail sales.

As you would expect, the colour red still largely dominated stores. But the different tactics used to deliver sale message executions were noticeable. Many retailers again kept things simple, although largely unimaginative, with large red sale window decals. Unsurprisingly, it is these stores that, whilst perhaps offering the biggest discounts, often also deliver the poorest retail standards. We didn’t  have to walk too far to find stores where little attention had been given to how sale product was presented, leaving shoppers to wade through discounted stock that, in some cases, was literally piled in a heap – surely harming the likelihood of maximising sell-through. The likes of Zara and River Island were just a couple of examples we came across.

Despite this, there were some highlights on our Boxing Day travels. Urban Outfitters has used a “hello 2015, goodbye 2014” message for its winter season sale along with visually strong typography in the form of an iconic percentage symbol – creating a bold and impactful campaign throughout the store.

Schuh was also particularly strong, delivering a consistent sales theme in-store and online that looked and felt beautifully ‘gift wrapped’ – using sales tape and digital screens in their window displays to great effect. The growing number of retailers now embracing digital technology to help drive real cut-through in a crowded retail environment was perhaps the most notable trend this year. Schuh was one great exponent of this, but we saw others that stood out too, such as Smiggle – bringing a sense of playfulness to its in-store sale through the use of digital. Top marks for creative digital content, however, must go to Three. The mobile retailer’s series of offbeat sales messages that included “Anyone would still think it’s Christmas” and “It’s never too late for presents” made for a witty retail activation and provided a welcome change from the norm.

Elsewhere, Levi’s patchwork denim sale message and Superdry’s “Winter. The Event” knitwear sale provided some eye-catching window and POS displays, whilst Reiss anchored its in-store sales with an emotive and positively refreshing “with love” tagline – demonstrating that retailers and shoppers alike should still care about the shopping experience, even during this bargain-frenzied season.

Click here to see pictures from the post-Christmas VM travels of the Visual Thinking team on the VT Facebook page.

Sainsbury’s new look, with help from VT

If you’re a reader of Retail Week, you might have noticed a feature on the fantastic new Sainsbury’s store in King’s Lynn.

This store’s rather unorthodox approach to VM is, I believe, a fantastic showcase for supermarkets’ potential, and one that I’m proud to say Visual Thinking assisted with.

Along with Twelve, Pope Wainwright and Sainsbury’s in house team, we have together given the store a creative and authoritative new look for several different product categories including product presentation and overall VM delivery for Kitchen shop, Paper shop and TU Clothing.

Take a peek at the pictures on the Retail Week website to see the finished look… 

April – C&A, Köln

I’m a regular visitor to Köln, making several trips each year. During the Spring, I noticed that a familiar retail landmark, C&A in the main shopping street of Schildergasse had been given a comprehensive makeover. This in itself should be no surprise, as retailers both in the UK or Germany regularly update their look. However, C&A is not recognised for significant change, never mind a total revamp of its shopping experience.

On this, I speak with some experience. Recently, my company Visual Thinking was invited in to redevelop the VM for C&A’s denim categories. Our brief was to create a new visual identity and shopping experience for its Women’s, Men’s and Kids’ denim collections. The project itself was straightforward, as we work on similar VM briefs for other retailers each year. I’m pleased to say that, after several months of working together, our recommendations were implemented in full – something that was satisfying to see finally instore.

C&A is a huge, Dutch fashion company that to this day, is still family owned. Over the years it has its seen its fair share of highs and lows in its long and successful trading history. After many years the brand famously quit the UK in 2001, selling eleven of its stores to Primark, in what must now seem a galling event.

Unlike many of the other fashion brands which have sprung up in recent years, for me C&A still represents an essentially ‘slow fashion’ business and one that appears increasingly ‘out of step’ with competitor clothing brands which have embraced ‘fast fashion’ and innovation as part of their DNA. The value fashion sector in which C&A operates has seen massive change and growth in recent years. Unsurprisingly, this has been fuelled by the recession in many parts of Europe. No wonder that a re-energised Primark has seen its new store openings take off with great success in Spain, Portugal, Holland, Austria and now in the back yard of C&A’s operations in Germany.

I have selected this image of C&A’s new store, not because I believe it represents a ‘high water mark’ in retail design, or because it breaks new ground in VM, but because of how this update signals something fundamentally greater that is happening within the value fashion sector. And, importantly, how this has prompted C&A to re-evaluate its overall brand delivery strategy and retail proposition, by improving product quality and increasing prices.

A big part of Primark’s recent success must surely be down to its exciting retail design, impactful VM and simple but efficient customer service. Its latest Oxford Street store (opened in Autumn 2012 in a former Virgin Megastore) is, I believe, remarkably good. In comparison, the C&A redesign is a ‘cosmetic update’ of the current retail proposition, being essentially a new coat on an old donkey. Friendly and familiar, yes. Exciting and trend aware – no!

That’s not to be unfair of what has been achieved at C&A, but let’s be clear, it’s an evolution – not the revolution that in my opinion the business really needed – even though sales will no doubt have impressed enough to give the green light on further roll out.

Unlike Primark and others that have invested in new retail formats (and have been prepared to really push the boundaries and excite the customer with something genuinely new, exciting and something they can’t experience elsewhere), for me, this C&A makeover does not inspire or linger. Kidswear (image above), however, has responded well to the redesign and is has several effective elements that should see the brand compete well against the likes of H&M and other low cost rivals. However, on adults’ fashion, I’m waiting for the next revamp, which I trust will be instore sometime maybe…

C&A it for yourself at Schildergasse, 60-68, Köln, Germany.