Window wonder

Richard Ash, founder and chief executive of Green Room Retail shares his views on the fundamentals of great marketing through window displays.

Richard Ash
Richard Ash

I spent last Friday with the great and good of the retail world (and Kimberley from Girls Aloud) at the opening of New Look’s new Oxford Street store. In the interests of transparency I should at this point proudly declare, proudly, that New Look is a client and my team is behind the window scheme at this flagship store.

This was a big occasion for New Look and us, and the excitement around it has reminded me about what it is I absolutely love about store windows and the part they play in the retail mix. When they’re good, they have an ability to make a tangible difference to the bottom line, by provoking a reaction, inspiring, entertaining and drawing punters in off the street. When they’re bad – or even just average – they’re nothing short of being a crying shame.

So what is it that separates the two? This seems like an apt time to share my six fundamentals of great store windows:

1. Create impact:
If a window’s not coveting attention, then what is it doing? Every passer by is a missed opportunity. To not act and lure them into your store, to your brand, to your product, is to fail. On a busy thoroughfare like Oxford Street, even a tiny percentage of converted pedestrians equates to a lovely ringing sound at the tills. But of course, one man’s impact is another man’s indifference, so that’s why it’s crucial you…

2. Know your customer
Harvey Nichols’ coat hanger skeletons sculpture ticked the box for me as an awesome piece of window theatre. As a target market consumer, I appreciated the artistry, its subtle, intelligent connection with elegant garments and I wanted to see more. But the same sculpture in the window of, say, TK Maxx, would be lost not just on me, but on the average TK Maxx punter. It might be intriguing, but where’s the link?

3. Light it up
Britain is a pretty dull place when it comes to light. By default of our relationship to the sun, it’s dark for half the time, and thanks to our frequently less than lovely climate, it’s cloudy much of the rest. And even bright sunshine brings glare and shadows. So light is essential, but it has to complement the scheme, and work hard to highlight or isolate, flatter, even entertain, and not just illuminate

4. Movement
Movement is a terrific trick for catching the eye and in a sea of competing visual stimuli, it can make the difference between your message being clocked or not. Use it to surprise, tease or otherwise bring your display alive. Very few retailers are employing movement in their window designs and that, quite simply, a missed opportunity.

5. Less is more
Never be afraid of space. Just because you have a five-metre window, it doesn’t mean you have to fill it. Tell one story well, instead of many badly and have the confidence to give design elements room to work. If you’re blessed with sightlines from street to store, let this become an extension of your display: a framed view of the store within can work better than a display itself as fashion retailer Reiss demonstrates so well.

6. Glass lines
If you are to catch the eye of passers’ by, you have to understand how they look. Pedestrians rarely see things at 90 degrees, so to appeal to those on the nearside pavement, you need to work at acute angles. In fashion, that means bringing mannequins or product to the front, almost touching glass. And don’t overlook other audiences: for example, the first floor display at New Look is aimed at those on the upper decks of passing buses.

Of course, this is a far from exhaustive view. Not mentioned are frequency of change and the importance of modular, flexible engineering, appealing to the senses other than sight, colour usage, or themeing. And I’ve resisted too from ranting about signs that clutter otherwise often sound designs.

But don’t think this is about me being a design zealot or elitist. I just want every retail window in the land to earn its keep. Good design rewards investment in spades, emotionally and financially. Customers are out there; you’ve just got to stop them in the tracks, so if your window is not thought provoking, on any level, it’s not doing its job. To blend in is to be lost in the blur of passing by.

And let’s be honest; too many of the windows dominating our retail areas are bland, uninspiring and, frankly, mediocre. So I’m urging you to change this by loving windows too.

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