Retail design for an international market

retail design for international market

Posted on 12 March 2018 in


With the increased expectations of the new global shoppers having made pilgrimages to consumer meccas such as London and Paris, the stores of the West are having a significant influence on retail design in booming markets such as Asia, Russia, the Middle East and South America, presenting great opportunities for home-grown designers.
Whilst every good retailer should be telling their own story well in store, the functional principles of retail store design remain pretty much universally relevant. The aim of any successful retail store begins with “equalising the value of the space”, making each square metre of the store work as hard as possible.

This is realised by creating a deliberate pathway through the store so that shoppers have an easy journey from the threshold to their chosen category, and in the process can view as much of the other merchandise as possible; the adjacencies.  Clever use of flooring, positioning and orientation of gondolas and strategically placed lighting are all effective ways of helping direct customers through the space and on their way to finding their planned and unplanned purchases.

Creating a local in store emotional experience

However, it is in the creation of the emotional experience in store that things can and do vary according to local customs and culture. Only by understanding and respecting such dynamics can one avoid “category one” errors and create a locally relevant retail experience.
Take a store layout in the UAE; when designing for well-known telecom brands we quickly understood that we needed to allow for a more comfortable and extensive seating area for sales consultation as, beyond a certain value, there is a cultural expectation for a longer “chat” and negotiation.
In a three-year global retail research program for Swarovski, we presented the brand with insights to ensure that their store design was appealing and relevant to local markets as they embarked on international expansion. We found in Hong Kong that the original colours of blue and red used in the store design were not as well received as in western markets, because red means dynamic and passionate to local customers, when the brand is perceived to be calm, subtle and serene.

Think global, adapt for individual markets

In neighouring China, where consumers are demanding what’s on offer worldwide, there’s a trend to rapidly move away from the traditional model of displaying products on simple shelving, to creating more immersive ‘experiences’ and reinforcing quality and trust in products through the design of the retail space. Quality and trust because this has historically lacked in Chinese products, so the consumer seeks means of reassurance from the brand reflected in the quality of the retail environment.

Such a vast market is also seeing the franchisee business model expanding apace, with the number of stores for a new brand reaching into the hundreds very quickly, sometimes within 1-2 years. The implication here is for the store furniture and unitary design to be modular and flexible to cater for cost effective and fast rollouts.

Automotive retailers are anticipating huge growth opportunities in China, where 22 million vehicles were sold last year. In Audi’s Beijing showroom we found that the PoS plinths used to display the car details were placed too low, forcing Chinese consumers to bow down to read the information and thus making them feel in some way “subservient” to the Audi brand, a no-no in Chinese culture.

Over in Russia, the length of sentences required to say the same thing in English and Russian is a key issue when trying to adapt PoS materials, logos or tag lines. It typically can take two and a half times as many words to express the same thing in Russian as in English. Store signage here is also subject to regulations, which are designed to avoid consumer confusion. Where a storefront in the UK might simply bear the brand “Pandora”, in Russia additional text is required to effectively say, “This is a jewellery store”.

Azerbaijan’s increasing number of new shopping centres is driving retailing competition. Designing a new store format for national telecom provider Nar, we used locally relevant design language to leverage the values of the brand, bringing it to life in a retail space. In Azeri Nar means “pomegranate” and is the country’s national fruit, holding positive associations and cultural significance to its people. Taking these positive cues, we designed the store layout to feature furniture that reflected the shape of the pomegranate and punctuated the space with the bright colours of Nar to create a happy place for conversation.

In conclusion

Each country has its own traditions, cultural norms and taboos, its what makes the world a dynamic place. So if you’re going to create a great place to shop in a new territory, do your homework, understand the culture and make sure your not unwittingly offending local customers.

Get the latest insights, sign up for our newsletter