We sat down with the renowned German shopfitting company Vizona and talked with managing director Matthias Hummel about the latest changes at Vizona, challenges for the retail industry and why online selling still leads to a lot of disorientation in the retail market.
At the beginning of 2016 it was announced that Vizona and Visplay were being marketed under the brand name Vitra. Now Vizona is operating independently again. What was the reason for the change?
The Vizona business is very different from the product business or the home sector of Vitra. Even if we sometimes work with the same customers the contact people or those responsible are totally different, especially in large companies. But the biggest distinction between Vitra and Vizona is the distribution model. In the end the hoped-for synergies could not be realized as expected. We are very happy that the ownership reacted quickly and Vizona can act independently again.
Were the clients surprised?
No, not at all. Of course we spoke to our customers; Vitra is a resounding name and it is always great to be linked with, but our clients were able to understand the differences between Vitra and Vizona business. In the end in the retail business you have to be fast. It was a positive decision and when you see the development of Vizona you know it was the right choice.
How was EuroShop?
EuroShop was a great platform and the feedback was very good. Together with Ansorg and Vitra we implemented concrete store examples for the segments of automotive, health & beauty, fashion, consumer electronics and food and showed how offline and online concepts can contribute to each other. We focused on what our customers are dealing with and it was really customer-oriented and not abstract at all. The visitors had the chance to discover different shops own their own at our booth.
Speaking of on- and offline, where do you see the biggest challenge for the retail industry?
There is a great deal of disorientation in the market about how to deal with this topic. We created substantial examples at EuroShop. The interlocking of online and offline has to be coordinated in a playful and natural way–it cannot be forced. It would be entirely wrong to think that you have to bring online one-to-one to the shop floor.
Of course you have many possibilities to shop and order everything from home but it makes no sense to offer that same option at a retail space. There’s no additional value to that. We think that personal contact and expert advice, which can be supported by the seller, is extremely important. The customer needs more flexibility. If the product is not available in the right color, you have to make clear that he or she can order it online. But the customer shouldn’t leave the store without anything. It’s important that he can shop within a convenient atmosphere; that he has the chance to try and feel the product and feels comfortable in the store. But if something is not in the right place, the customer will simply order online. Additionally, supporting this kind of feeling and unique experience personal contact is essential.
Do you have any specific example where online and offline are connected together perfectly?
We have been dealing with this subject since 2014. Together with Camper, a Spanish footwear brand and the well respected architect Francis Kéré, who is extremely creative and mainly active outside the retail design, we installed a forward-looking pop-up project at the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, where people could buy shoes directly. Of course we have a slightly different audience who has an affinity for design and architecture. Within the created store world customers could measure their feet and order the products easily online in every possible colorway. The digital approach also made it possible to track down which products were well received and you could see, that Asians are much more design-oriented as all technical devices in the store seemed natural to them.
Where do you see a technical backlog when it comes to retail space?
We think that the purchase decision is made in the changing room. This area needs to get more attention in the near future: it should be bigger, more separated and also equipped with state-of-the-art technology. If you try something and it doesn’t fit, the problem starts. You have to get out of the booth, change clothes again and go back in– it’s too time-consuming. It’s essential that the client feels comfortable in the dressing room and has the option to reorder items–but that also means that the vendor plays an active role in this part.
Lighting is also important. Of course the customer wants to look good therefore the illumination is crucial. But also think about the time of the day and for what occasion you buy your clothes. If I buy sportswear it might reasonably assumed that a daylight situation in the changing room would be better, contrary to when buying an evening gown. A simple technical solution for that issue could be an adjustable button for morning, midday and evening light.
Aren’t you afraid that people could feel overloaded with too much technology in the changing room?
Of course you have to have personal assistance by the vendor and the technical possibilities should be easy adjustable by the individual. The customer should decide if he wants help or not. We see great potential in retail business when it comes to dressing rooms. There is a lot of thinking about room lighting in general but this is more about direct lighting of products. You can easily create significant changes in the shop area when you switch to different lighting.
In what way have the demands of the customers changed in regards to online retail?
The customer desires more entertainment–a veritable shopping experience. The different senses need to be addressed more forcefully. The mere presentation of goods is no longer sufficient. Customers need to be actively involved in different topics and there needs to be a connection. Of course it also depends on the target group. But overall today’s customers want to be inspired and emotionally addressed.
I think that shopfitting has to adapt better to constant/faster changing consumer demands. Today you can’t say, “Oh that looks good, so I’ll leave it like this for the next four years.” Nowadays flexibility is the key in shopfitting and customers need to be approached in new different ways without losing sight of the identity of the brand itself.
I believe that this might sound very scary for some retailers and brands?
Not necessarily. Retail architecture offers possibilities and systems by which you can change things very easily. That doesn’t mean you have to renew your whole shopfitting every time. It might be sufficient if you implement and change little things in the shop.
Are your clients open to changes in shopfitting?
Yes, but when it comes to the practical implementation every store owner faces organizational problems and comes up with questions: How can I realize the changes? How can I involve my staff? What does the merchandising look like? I can feel a lot of reluctance when it comes to this topic, especially within bigger companies that have precise guidelines for the shopfitting including all presentation details. This can lead to a static shopfitting with no individual character and the local aspect, which is more and more important, is missing. A lack of coziness and/or a regional link in some shop designs is very important retail problem.
How can a retailer implement this conceptually?
One can easily sell specialty products of the region or you find a certain local topic that can be linked with your product presentation. If you have a store in Vienna for example and the Vienna Opera Ball is just around the corner–you can set up a presentation with evening gowns and decorate it with accessories. This is comparatively easy to implement and change conceptually, as everybody who works at a store should have an eye for these things. Curating correctly is a challenge for the retail sector.
The new H&M group brand Arket just opened a store in London. How important are concept stores in your opinion?
That’s the future. Whether it is pop-ups or concept stores–these stores are able to cater certain moods and situations much better and achieve more flexibility relating to the store presentation. Again, at the end of the day it is all about entertainment.
Vizona is more oriented on brands but we also believe in department stores. They have enough space to implement outstanding and interesting shopfitting solutions that catch the customer’s attention and make the shopping experience unique. And I think that a lot of department stores have learned to use this opportunity wisely, for instance Le Printemps Paris–they are doing an awesome job and understand that they have to see themselves as a brand.
What are the current (material) trends in shopfitting?
It’s difficult, as there is no general answer to this question–one that I’m asked a lot (laughs). There will always be a difference if you realize a concept for Nike or Adidas or for Lange & Söhne [a German brand of high quality and prestige watches]. Steel, concrete and a touch of industrial atmosphere are often in the forefront for sports brands. It’s all about competition and performance in that industry but in other industries, like for Lange & Söhne, it might be something else. Therefore I would go this far to say it is irrelevant what trends are taking place right now. What is more important is that the chosen materials represent the brand itself and the brand has to identify itself with the shopfitting.