In response to a project we are currently looking into we wanted to take a broader look at the use of transitional areas within retail environments; stairwells, escalators and atriums.

This extra space is often neglected or poorly treated, so this month’s retail audit takes a look at a few great examples of using the extra spaces within a store to their maximum potential and not only filling the area, but creating a focal point of interest on a shopper’s journey.

Let’s have a look…

Our first example is a very memorable stairwell. The ‘Living wall’ installed in Regent Street’s Anthropologie (The US brand’s first flagship outing in Europe) was intended to make a big impact, and that it does. It’s an amazing piece; 160 square metres of living wall space, which fills the full 15 metres of the stores stairwell. This may be a stretch for some retailers, but for Anthropologie it perfectly creates a dramatic backdrop to the brand’s eclectic and creative mode of presentation.


The now iconic Singer sewing machines that adorn every All Saints store window (which amass to a huge total of around 10,000 sewing machines, where did they get them all?!), these are also repeated in this stairwell at Regent Street, with directional signage highlighted with neon.


The Debenhams store in Oxford Street is architecturally blessed with a stunning atrium area and they have taken advantage of this and maximised the space with displays located in the area.

Recent refurbishment work included some great lighting in this area, and each promotional campaign utilises this space to great effect. This was all part of a £40 million makeover to turn the West End store into an Oxford Street landmark.

Just along Oxford Street from Debenhams; the John Lewis store benefits from a similar atrium space. The VM teams have created some great feature displays at either end, catching the sightlines of shoppers as they ascend and descend the escalators.


Retail giant H&M have created this striking illuminated rear wall in their Oxford Street store; which draws the visitor’s eye towards the back of the store, as well as providing a strong brand statement as people travel between floors.

At John Lewis’s Grand Central store in Birmingham, they use different sized LED rings which are hung over the rear stairwell to create a contemporary effect in this new store. As you can see this really does work and makes a focal piece of an otherwise average staircase.

Matalan’s first central London store opened last year on Oxford Street showing a huge change of direction for this ‘out-of-town’ retailer. As this was a big leap and a massive opportunity they wouldn’t want to get anything wrong, and they have thought of everything. This image shows the stairwell leading to their kids department and as you can see, they used the opportunity to set the tone with a playful mix of lightboxes, bold 3D lettering and silhouettes.

With their famous strapline of ‘United Colors of Benetton’, the brand takes this literally with both the stairs and escalator space within their Oxford Street store.

Oxford Street’s New Look uses the space at their escalators to help customers navigate to the correct floors by combining bold floor numbers with branded lightbox graphics. This allows easy and cost effective updating, should the categories relocate.


The new Primark store on the Gran Via in Madrid contains a number of striking and innovative features; they really did pull out all the stops! One great feature is the irregular shaped lightboxes on their escalator walls, which thanks to clever engineering cover the entire space. Why not utilise the space you have?!


Here is the lightbox we created for River Island; used in their newly renovated Trafford Centre store. This is another irregular shaped lightbox utilised to fill a bespoke space.

In our Mothercare audit we saw that their new format applied some character and humour throughout their Manchester store. A hop, skip and a jump floor vinyl is used to guide customers upstairs – after they have measured themselves on the 6 metre tall giraffe height chart that clads the lift tower.


Lakeland’s Nottingham store has a great idea by combining its company strapline on the wall, with a quirky feather duster chandelier. Thinking out of the box, but staying 100% on brand!


Similarly to Lakeland’s approach, professional hair and beauty product supplier Sally has created a stairwell feature piece using their own products. The brightly coloured hair dryers work surprisingly well as a chandelier!


Obviously many stores are blessed with striking architecture, providing a strong backdrop for understated displays.

This is where the visual merchandising team has to step in and earn their money. They have to make the most of the space they’re given and we feel there are definitely some stores that could be making more of it. From the examples above, with the right ideas and correct use of materials it’s not simply the utilisation of space; it’s making the space work for you.