While the UK government has struggled with the concept of ‘track and trace’ for its planned Coronavirus contact tracing app and now turned to tech giants Apple and Google for a solution, one company who has got tracking down to a tee is Shopworks, the international retail design consultancy.
It has been capturing customer journeys in retail environments for some 23 years and interpreting that information and data in order to replan stores, drive shoppers though the retail space and ultimately benefit the bottom line.
Founded by Craig Phillipson, a former BP and Kodak executive, Shopworks has built up a sizeable portfolio of work and a strong international footing over the last two decades.
“We’ve always been lucky to have international customers,” states Phillipson, who reports Shopworks has completed projects in some 42 different countries. “[Pre-Covid-19] we are good travellers and have an excellent network of partners: research agencies and design agencies plus fit-out firms, so that we can put a programme together easily in most places,” he says.
In addition to the Berkhamsted, UK-base, Shopworks has an office in Russia, is represented in France and, until recently in China; plus a strong partnership with the Design Partnership in Johannesburg, South Africa and Greater Group in Australia and across Asia, and more recently Bona Design Lab.
Its client base has been diverse, spanning telecoms with the likes of Nokia, Vodafone and O2; and more latterly with forecourt retailers and hospitality (cafés and restaurants) plus the UK cinema chain, Vue.
The broad customer base is testament to the fact that Shopworks’ research principles – how and why people buy things – are transferable across every industry, says Phillipson. “We understand the customer journey, we map it and back it [with data],” he says. “It does not matter which industry you look at, the space planning principles are the same.”
That said, convenience and forecourt retailing has become a significant area of expertise for the business as Shopworks has cemented its reputation in the sector with Shell and other leading forecourts including Puma, Emarat, Galp, Oman Oil and Petrol Ofisi have followed suit.
“If you get a bit of a speciality, then once you start talking the language and understanding the problems, it’s easier to come up with good solutions,” Phillipson explains.
While initial processes to capture and track shopper movements behaviour were largely manual, new technologies have since come into their own, transforming operations and enabling multiple data integrations such as combining customer tracking information with EPoS data and basket data for shopping missions plus correlations with data from a retailer’s loyalty programmes.
According to Phillipson, that enables Shopworks to build a picture or composite of what people are doing both inside and outside of the store.
However, that’s simply the tip of the iceberg, as Phillipson explains. “The key is how you interpret that information and replan the stores – that’s what makes the difference,” he says. “The ability to track – data tracking and customer tracking – you do to prove that you are right and then you finesse it,” he says. Retailers will often win ‘big hits’ at the outset of a project but designs will need to be fine-tuned to deliver the optimum outputs, Phillipson maintains.
That’s where Shopworks, its expertise and technical know-how comes in. It includes exacting details about the way we shop. People in general shop with a cone of active vision at 60˚, for example, but women shop at 65˚. That means women are better drivers of cars, since their peripheral vision is wider than their male counterparts, says Phillipson.
We are regimented beings too, it seems, turning at 45˚, if an obstacle is in the way, and we must be within 1.2m from a product in order to buy it.
It’s facts like these which we wittingly or unwittingly see played out in retail layouts. For Phillipson, IKEA and Flying Tiger Copenhagen excel in this respect, showcasing their products and wares, in IKEA’s case at least three times during the shopper journey in order to prompt a sale.
Their directional, one-way systems, once pretty unique in the marketplace, are now commonplace due to Covid-19 and the associated social distancing measures but are winning greater traction with consumers.
“It’s what guides sales and is more accepted now because people want to be safe. There’s much less push back from one way systems than previously,” Phillipson says.
Phillipson reveals Shopworks is currently trialing its own scan and go solution, which can be easily retrofitted. It’s not dissimilar to Amazon Go tech but available at a fraction of the cost and is way less sterile, he states. “The problem with Amazon Go is that it sometimes feels like it’s been designed by the tech department. Environments still need to be interesting and exciting, the Wholefoods purchase should start to influence things” he maintains. The Shopworks’ solution is being tested with pay as you leave but once it’s up and running shoppers will pay on their smart phones.
Concerns over shrinkage are real but must be overcome, Phillipson adds. “Inevitably theft will increase but as long as sales increase more then it’s OK, you have to test,” he says.
As well as driving customers effectively and efficiently through a retail space, Shopworks’ retail design expertise takes into account sightlines, angles and access, categories and agencies.
The mantra that ‘eye level is buy level’ is, in Phillipson’s books, “absolutely unavoidable”.
But, if a shopper were to stand in front of a fixture, their target gaze would fan out concentrically but with a top left to bottom right orientation or skew, just as if they were reading a book, he explains.
Top brands are another influential factor in store design and used to signpost and pinpoint key categories.
A shopper searching for bottled water, for instance, would look for Coca-Cola and then navigate their way past the iconic red brand to the water fixture.
“That’s why those brands are so strong – they don’t just sell themselves but the category as well,” says Phillipson.
It’s these kind of solutions, which have enabled Shopworks to drive substantial shopper conversions at retailers including Shell.
At Costa, meanwhile, the business has analysed and evaluated the efficiency of displays, counter units and seating in order to provide a better shopping experience and sell more product. Similarly at Emarat, Shopworks replanned a new store concept with better category allocation and rationalised displays.
Phillipson reckons petrol forecourt retailers should take note. Many have a huge amount of tail and/or struggle to fill their space beyond the 5 Cs, he says.
Food to go, until Covid, has been winning traction in this space, however. Phillipson, for one, is intrigued whether EG Group’s strong brand partnership approach with the likes of Starbucks, KFC, Greggs, Spar and Subway will win out versus the high margin, own brand offer developed by retailers including Maxol.
Drive throughs – Phillipson and Joe Bona of Bona Design Lab included these formats in possible future store concepts in Shop Talk LIVE #8, have potential post-Covid, he adds. They would be particularly pertinent in Asian markets with a manned service offer or pay at pump.
Formats where shoppers can browse from the comfort of their car and have products loaded into their boots are a no brainer, Phillipson suggests. “I don’t understand why it’s not a thing,” he says. Similarly, click and collect models for bulky items like bottled water and charcoal make perfect sense and; he references Majestic, the wine retailer, which opened sites on former forecourts and provided shoppers with easy parking and an opportunity to buy and pop a couple of boxes of wine in their car boots.
As lockdown measures resulting from the global pandemic begin to be lifted in markets around the world, Phillipson is keen to help bring enjoyment and pleasure back into the ‘physical’ shopping experience, in spite of new distancing measures and hygiene factors.
“It’s about making people feel comfortable and integrating hygiene elements into the design so that people understand what’s going on and then can relax and start buying,” he says.
Shopworks, for one, is busy helping existing customers adapt to new guidelines and ensuring new clients like Vue can reopen across the multi-faceted aspects of their operations ie ticketing, retail and hospitality in a safe way. The company has also rebranded its tracking technology as Trackernomics to promote the one-stop shop nature of its services.
Phillipson is also keeping a watchful eye on the retail scene having visited the Westfield shopping centre in West London shortly after non-essential stores reopened on 15 June. Shoppers were clearly relishing the ‘new’, if not different, experience and opportunity to make more informed purchasing decisions versus online, especially in sectors like fashion.
Ahead of opening, this group of retailers had been anxious to talk to convenience retailers and win their insight, even though they are selling very different products, Phillipson reports.
While non-essential retailers are firmly in phase one of their response to the Covid pandemic, convenience retailers and supermarkets are moving onto phase two with more nuanced queuing systems such as for food for now or food for tonight, Phillpson says. Morrisons has introduced a speedy queue and checkout system for basket shoppers, for example.
Shopworks anticipates further new formats will emerge to overcome the need to queue or make shopper journeys faster and more efficient. Crucially, it has the tracking technology and know-how to help make it happen.