Store Design: 5 Trends With Nic Criticos

We caught up with Nic Criticos, Head of Store Design at Woolworths to gain insight into supermarket design and find out what’s next for the SA chain.

Tell us a bit about your background?

I am a qualified architect. I started out working as an architect and was led over time to more commercial spaces, particularly interior architecture projects. This then included hotels, spas and restaurants, which ultimately led me to retail and Woolworths.

I have always had a strong leaning toward graphic design and its components. My work at Woolworths has allowed me to hone my skills as a retail architect. It’s not just about design; that’s the easy part. You have to understand the complexity, psychology and emotions around retail, and you need to apply those to what you know and what your skills set is around design. I have successfully gained insight into this line of work and had the good fortune of sharpening my skill on a number of flagship Woolworths projects.

What are five trends that you see in modern store design?

There are so many trends at the moment it is difficult to conclusively say what the defining trends are – because retail morphs, it evolves, it retrospects, and looks constantly into the future.

The trends will move according to the way that society moves, or the way that fashion dictates or the way that people’s taste evolves.

Still, there are a number of standout trends that I can touch on:

  • A big driver of change in retail is the fundamental shift in the way that people are shopping. They are doing a lot of online shopping, but they are also doing a lot of online investigative work before they head into a physical space.
  • Retail, in a way, has gone backwards. In the early 2000s customers were shopping in a physical space and then deciding they needed an online presence, to supplement their physical presence. Now, businesses are starting off in the online environment and then realising they need a physical space. The realisation is that you are only going to get total customer immersion and understanding of a brand in a tangible, physical space. Net A-Porter is a good example of an online store that has grown into a pop-up store, so customers can immerse themselves in the brand.
  • There is an amazing integration between the online and physical environments. Connectivity and apps on phones allow for geotagging and Bluetooth connectivity, where products can send messages to phones, which link to websites to allow for online purchases. Retailers also need to consider how customers engage with the digital experience within a store/the physical environment and the availability of digital in the store. They then need to focus on making those digital spaces an extension of their in-store sales team.
  • An amazing shift which is also defining retail at the moment is that stores are no longer just retail spaces, but are social hubs and a place to meet. It is not enough to have a beautiful space anymore, we have to offer more to get customers to come into the store and shop in a physical environment rather than online. We, as retailers, need to have activities within the retail space other than shopping to entice people out of the convenience of the online environment. Burberry is a good example: they created a great space to lure you in; they have what can be described as a ‘temple or cathedral of retail’, which was utterly inspiring and customers leave the space having been immersed in Burberry.  This cannot happen in an online environment.

Essentially, with trends, the sky is the limit – whatever gets people shopping is where the trends start to happen.

What’s the next milestone?

We are working on the “store of the future” – essentially. Every store we design encompasses a bit of an evolution. We are always improving on past design and taking lessons learned from previous stores and applying them – but never a complete change. Now we are looking at a paradigm shift for Woolworths.

This shift will influence the way customers see and experience shopping completely. Since we now share the same walkways with global players – and they with us – we need to have nothing short of a paradigm shift to in order to be able to continue to competitively play in that arena. It has been a long process, a lot of research and development was needed, and a lot of shifts in every area that you touch, be those architecture, lighting, air conditioning, flooring, equipment, the way the visual merchandising works, messaging, environmental design, cafes and food markets… every single element will change.

So, that’s a big project – in the next few weeks, we will be launching our new store.