Following the news that one of the UK’s best-known department stores, Debenhams, will be deploying a new strategy that aims to redefine its relevance to the ‘new’ (read: digital) shopper, we thought it was an appropriate time to look into how department store designs are addressing their need to manage concession displays & retailers, to improve experiences in store.

Department Store Design & Displays

Digital Age of Shopping

Debenhams Chief Executive introduced his vision with this statement “Our customers are changing the way they shop and we are changing too”. Debenhams, along with the majority of large retailers are responding to the digital age of shopping, with social-proofing and research available instantly, that can impact decision making in store. 

Missguided, an online turned bricks and mortar retailer, launched their own app (with 500,000+ downloads!) featuring ‘Swipe to Hype’: which provides customers with a chance to save the items they’re interested in. The obvious use of this for an online retailer is remarking, however now Missguided has branched out into physical retail, it’s a potential shopping basket. Missguided get it. Starting life as a pure play e-commerce business gave them the freedom to excel in digital strategy, before using the most successful elements in their stores. Their changing rooms are the epitome of mixing the digital & physical world of retail design - a place that encourages sharing of pictures through the prominent hashtag in the midst of a more relaxed setting for trying on items.

Department Store Design

Debenhams’ own mobile performance is incredible, driving a “64% surge in orders” (Retail Gazette) in 2016. So it’s very much a case of half the battle being won for Debenhams.

Creating pop-up experiences

We recently looked into why pop-up stores are becoming more popular, and department stores look to be taking some of the principles of the pop-up store into account when creating new layouts. Here we take two images from Virgile + Partners redesign of the Harvey Nichols flagship.

Harvey Nichols Department Design

The first, an open space with a focus on relaxation, alongside the second, a more functional space that is much heavier in available items. This sits within one of Debenham’s points in their redesign statement, that they will be reducing the amount of product lines in store by 10%. Across the store as a whole, it might not have a significant visual effect, however used in isolation (as we can see from the examples above), it provides department stores the opportunity to focus on an experience where the customer requires one, typically around higher-priced items, and retain the availability options of products where possible.

Creating designs that emulate pop-ups mean department stores can take more risks. Savvy store designers know that the easiest way to engage with consumers is through their emotions. And, to tap into your customer’s emotions, nothing beats the power of a good story.

“If people love a brand story, more than half (55%) are more likely to buy the product in the future, 44% will share the story and 15% will buy straight away." Headstream

A story isn’t just about the advertising campaign you come up with. It translates all the way through to how retail displays convey a message. By using more authentic, organic materials, mid to high-end retailers like Harvey Nichols & Debenhams are making their stores seem more approachable, encouraging business from shoppers who might previously have been disengaged.

Multi-brand stores are growing in popularity

Dixon’s Carphone are the recent leaders in multi-brand stores, adamant that their stores will rival the online experience by using innovative display methods, including digital signage. Debenhams are y no means newcomers to this strategy, with concessions in-store from the likes of Sports Direct and Clarins Skin Spa. 

“Bringing multiple brands into one store is a marriage of convenience. A number of retailers have units bigger than they need and concessions are a commercial way of mitigating costs” Alex Munro, Knight Frank (Retail Week)

With the overhead challenges that standalone stores present, it’s more important than ever to create a distinctive experience and deliver a brand message no matter where the retailer is present. However, as Martin Plocica told Retail Week: ‘Ensuring you have the right product targeted to the right market at the right price is simply not enough to guarantee customer loyalty”.

Retailers need to do more with their spaces, creating experiences that shoppers engage with and remember, rather than visiting a particular shop for ease. This is where product displays are key, especially when emulating pop up experiences within department stores. Retailers need to take two things into consideration:

  • Modularity: chances are product turnaround will be high, and displays will need to evolve constantly to keep up with customer demand and trends. Creating a display that can adapt to this is essential for both product choice and cost to the retailer
  • EngageEngagement: light and animation is one way to attract attention in a competitive environment. Experimenting with colour temperatures of light to stand out from the rest of the store, or implementing graphic displays that have integrated animation technology, can help draw the eye of shoppers towards your display. See our recent blog on display technology here.


If you need help creating a display that resonates with shoppers, get in touch with our team.