• Hexcite Studio

The Essential Retail Vaccine – getting set for 2021.

The race to find a Covid vaccine has arrived and, as the UK’s rolling news tells us, these are being administered in haste. Putting this year’s Covid catastrophe to one side, the loudest retail authority voices that are always heard at events and through trade publications have been calling for a ‘vaccine’ that helps bricks and mortar retail reclaim the heady successes of their youth.

The blame game invariably starts with the same old culprits: antiquated retail business rates, the rampant rise of online, uninspiring high streets, large corporate retailers capitalising on their size to dominate the high street – you’ve heard them all and could probably add a long list of others.

I would never suggest that these subjects be taken off the table. They still require voices to be heard to ensure parity with other businesses (has anyone come up with a good reason why online only retailers don’t pay value added tax in the countries they operate in?). But with uncertainty about how stores are going to open in the New Year, now feels the right time to place massive focus on the good ideas that have blossomed through adversity this year and for us all to learn from them, and take the best bits and act on them.

This year the Hexcite Studio team have done a significant amount of work with some amazing retailers that have realised that, come what may, now is the time to evolve, rethink and go into January with guns blazing.

Even though I’m immersed in the creative retail industry one can still end up losing sight of our purpose. Sometimes you need something to be taken away in order for you to appreciate the things you love. Well, it dawned on me as I scanned the aisles of my local supermarket this week looking for ad-hoc gifts that would make a delightful Xmas treat for loved ones. The single thing I feel like I’ve missed from shopping this year is ‘inspiration’. And not just in grocery. I mean at every level of shopping. I really want to be taken off the beaten track, surprised, delighted and rewarded. Of course, there are rules around this but at its essence, inspiration, I feel, is all people want.

So, ‘Inspiration’ is the main ingredient of the retail vaccine I have speedily developed and rolled out – this week! Whilst it may not protect the whole of retail against market forces, greedy billionaires, fads and fashions, I think it will be imperative for us all to share and ‘talk-up’ the incredible, the engaging, the thought-provoking and the down-right different retail experiences we’re seeing.

Thanks to plenty of creativity and a little extra effort, incredible things have happened in retail this year. Next year, the best way we can help inspire shoppers is to learn from others and keep spreading positive messages about the things we see.

Here are a few trends, retailers and brands we’ve seen or worked on this year that we think are worth learning from…

Huge brands, mini formats

Small format stores are nothing new but I predict we’ll see a rise in the number we see. We’ve been working with Dobbies Garden Centres to help them deliver a trimmed down version of their huge, highly rated, out-of-town garden centres to an Edinburgh High Street.

Traditional garden centres are so successful because they’re brilliant at inspiring shoppers of all ages. Smaller sister stores such as this are a great way of taking a highly curated edit, repackaging it into a compact format and re-presenting it to a different.

Little Dobbies coffee bar - Kesslers International Ltd & Stuart Atwood Photography

Boutique-style speed bumps

It’s easy to pick out any of the superb single-brand boutique stores as bastions of good design, such as the Levi’s x Lego collab we saw this summer. They truly offer an immersive brand experience and shoppers actively seek out these moments for escapism and inspiration.

With shoppers potentially staying away from the shopping hot spots these stores tend to be in, we may well be relying increasingly on mass retail and department stores to provide us with highly experiential brand immersions spots.

Space is always a challenge but these ‘speed bumps’ along the shopper journey, such as this lovely execution I consulted on a year or so ago for Moet and Chandon in Sainsbury’s, could be a critical strategy to drive footfall and increase dwell time.

Moet & Chandon interactive display in Sainsburys - Dan Wheeler

The steady rise of part-time retail space.

Pop-up retail is nothing new and works successfully for product launches and special branded events but I’ve not yet come across anyone offering highly visible, premium retail space by the hour.

New pop-up retail company Sook are offering just that, although they call it ‘adaptive retail spaces’. I think this could be a game changer – particularly for new and emerging brands that might otherwise struggle to get their innovation in front of this volume of shoppers.

Big established brands and retailers have the luxury of space and geographic spread to test and trial new product concepts. The likes of Sook will allow emerging brands to quickly receive feedback on their own terms without having to persuade buyers whilst pumping significant investment into their marketing campaigns in order to give them a listing.

Adaptive retail space - Sook

So there you have it; our first ‘jab’ at a retail vaccine. Maybe you have others? Maybe you’d like to add to our thoughts and ideas? Or maybe you you’d like to chat about the solutions we can help you deliver in-store. If so, feel free to get in touch or share your thoughts.

Wishing all of our followers and friends a very Merry Christmas and a safe and successful 2021.


Andy Cording

Creative Strategy Director, Hexcite Studio


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