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Scary Stuff
14 September 2009

Kirks Originals, Londonstarchitect Rem Koolhaas

Scary Stuff

“It’ll scare people away,”
“Our customers will be too intimidated to come in.”
“They will think we’ve put the prices up.”

All of the above are common comments to receive when presenting a new store concept to a client.

Frankly I think we underestimate our customers. Not only are they unafraid of innovation, they expect it.

A recent article in Sunday Life magazine about the psychology of shopping quoted some interesting research done by the Mind Lab in the UK. It was shown that while customers still exhibited longing for luxury and fashion items there is now an equal amount of stress brought about by feelings of guilt or moral revulsion. As Mary Portas puts it, “desire doesn’t go away in a recession,” it’s overcoming the reluctance that’s the problem.

The article goes on to say, though, that “designers and retailers have one particularly beneficial neurological fact on their side. The brain is stimulated by novelty so customers will always seek innovation and new products..”

Innovation is key. Our recession- toughened customers now expect value pricing as a matter of course and keep retailers honest with new social networking tools, but they are also expecting new store experiences that are not just based on price pointing.
Forever 21, H&M and Top Shop present highly aspirational stores to arouse desire with highly affordable merchandise to allay the guilt. Uniqlo has re defined the whole idea of value retailing with its innovations in product, store environments, and socially responsible behaviour from sourcing and manufacture to recycling and disposal. Guilt doesn’t enter into the purchase decision. Would their customers rather still be shopping for basic, uninspiring merchandise in pragmatically designed store interiors? I don’t think so. Are they scared? No, they’re loving it. The designer labels are at it too. Armani has created a mind- blowing hybrid of sculpture and staircase in their fifth avenue flagship. Prada has a new transportable and transformable exhibition and event space designed by starchitect Rem Koolhaas.

The Coolhunter website ( has recently pointed out that “extraordinary is the new ordinary….Innovation isn't an option anymore. It's mandatory. And to today's hyper-informed and perennially connected consumers, it's a basic expectation….”

So if it’s not the customers who are nervous of innovation, is it retailers? It’s understandable, given that they have more at stake, but I believe that the emotion can be channeled positively. As a former client of mine, Paul Tomlinson of Wilson’s Leather, used to say, “Gary, this makes me a little scared. But in a good way.”

That was back in the days when innovation was a luxury not a necessity. My question now is, “What will happen if you don’t do it?”
Now that’s scary…

Gary McCartney is Managing Director of McCartney DesignHe can be contacted on gary@mccartney

14 September 2009
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