As one of the leading retail design agencies in the world, Dalziel & Pow are constantly producing work that sparks conversation at GDR. Its store for fast fashion retailer Missguided was one of the best-executed examples of a brand living the language of its customers that we saw last year and one of the most polarising. Innovation Researcher Lamorna Byford met Creative Director David Dalziel and Strategy Director Paul West to talk about the somewhat controversial store.
LB: Tell us about the thinking behind the Missguided store.
DD: The question for Missguided is, why conventional retail in the first place? It’s a very successful web brand doing very well in its market, but it recognises that there’s limitations to that. Multi-channel traders like Next and John Lewis show that if web and retail work together in balance you have a potentially very powerful story. Asos’ entire turnover doesn’t even match the profit that a multi-channel retailer like Next can make. So Missguided are pushing for multi-channel retail that doesn’t make any compromises and that’s fantastic. They have no pre-conceptions; they don’t think about small beginnings and building a story. They think about big confident statements – 20,000 square feet in Westfield Stratford is massive as a beginning. They plan to open another five stores of equal size within five months, which is incredible. They’re being subversive by saying they can be a successful retailer from the beginning.
PW: We first met them a year ago and were offered a spray tan at reception, then the Malibus came out and we started brainstorming a retail concept. It’s an unconventional set-up. As soon as you walk through their door, you get an awareness of this unusual atmosphere and there’s a real sense of fun and energy amongst their staff. They have a dark immersive tunnel that you walk through into a bright pink meeting room. That first meeting really set the tone for the project. We wanted to think about how we could bring that big online personality into the real world. There are no legacies or pre-conceptions – they just wanted it to be completely unique to them.
We started by thinking about why people choose Missguided. It’s a brand that could be taken in different ways, but it’s built up a big fan base. Browsing online is quite an isolating experience, which doesn’t match the big, party personality of the brand. We wanted to create a live version of the website where people could effectively be taking part and generating content and pushing that back out to others online. This sparked the idea of being ‘on-air’ and this whole design treatment with stage sets and props. We liked that the ads on the site are all in different locations, in an old house in Miami or on the beach, distinct places that you’d visit within their website. We wanted to bring that idea of a different world into the bricks-and-mortar space. That gave us a very different starting point from most projects because it became more of a shoppable experience rather than just a standard store.
DD: What we have avoided, and I think this is really important, is encouraging the customer to shop online in store. This is a shopping experience you commit to; it’s not a compromise between web and store. We don’t have terminals for e-commerce; we have a space full of stuff that you can experience for the first time. There are digital elements that talk to you as you go through the space.
The individual posters in store are live and they talk to you as a customer directly through your phone, but you’re not browsing or shopping online in store, which is quite an odd thing to promote these days when mobile is so powerful. We don’t need those clunky static terminals to make that connection.
LB: You’ve said it’s quite a different starting point from some of the other projects you’ve worked on and it definitely, to us, stands out as a very different space. It’s quite a polarising case study amongst our team. We all think you’re speaking the exact language you need to be speaking in that space, but whether we like it or not is a slightly different thing.
DD: Yes, it’s absolutely that. If you follow any social media, which we obviously do to listen to what customers are thinking and saying about the space, it works for those who it needs to work for. I’m comfortable with that; it’s not where I go to shop. It’s not designed for me.
PW: In terms of the polarising aspect I think it’s okay for Missguided to do that. The high street is awash with the same kind of brands doing the same kind of things in the same tone of voice. They needed to be different so they didn’t just mix in with everyone else. I think that’s a good thing.
DD: It is polarising, but for such a big offer, and I think this is becoming more relevant as we go forward, knowing your customer and giving them what they want becomes really powerful – not inflating the offer to become everything to everyone. Missguided know who their customer is. They talk to them in a way that no one else does. In fact, Westfield was really upset about some of the language in the store. The night before opening some of the messages were a bit bolder than they are now.
LB: Less stars and asterisks?
DD: Yes, exactly. Missguided felt it was important to make those statements. We warned them that that could be difficult and indeed, our art workers were printing and re-assembling graphics the night before opening on the instruction of the central management. Missguided were upset they couldn’t be as bold as they wanted to be, but they definitely kept the flavour. Four doors down is John Lewis, a store for an entirely different customer, and it shouldn’t be anything like the John Lewis experience.
When we think about what stores look like now, we work within a very narrow field of trend. Concrete floors and bold spotlighting are a given now and we don’t talk about them any more. We talk about experience much more and that’s what we needed to achieve here. So you could see a similar spotlight in John Lewis, doing a similar job and illuminating a particular product, but that is just retail structure – we should be focussing more on the total experience.
In this case, I’m pleased that some of your team might not like it, that’s just fine. Reassuringly, and anecdotally, it’s hit the mark financially too, which isn’t something we often get the chance to talk about. It’s currently competing with Topshop in the same mall. I think that customer might be a little jaded by the narrow group of usual players, the big fast fashion retailers. When something like this comes along it really re-sets the dial. I think some of those big players will be trying to redefine what it means to be the brand for those customers.
LB: As you’ve said, it’s interesting to watch an online retailer move into physical retail so successfully, especially at a time when people can be quick to declare bricks-and-mortar to be dying. What do you think the advantages of having a physical retail space are?
DD: There’s a great quote from Roger Wade of Box Park. He says that shopping online can be like watching fireworks on TV – you don’t really get that full experience online and you have to almost trust and want the brand already. They can’t generate that appetite online that you can generate in store. In store, it’s quite easy to create an emotional connection because it’s physical and it means something, whereas online every brand is inevitably flatter. I think it’s really positive to think about physical retail like that.
Behavioural insight has to be applied to everything we do, not just this space, and we’re constantly looking for that insider story. Five or ten years ago a brief might have been, ‘make a better store that makes more money’. That’s no longer good enough. There are lots of good-looking stores that lie around empty in every shopping centre and every high street and they haven’t made that connection with the customer. Just building a good shop isn’t enough.
PW: You need to tell a big story and get that essence of what people want from your brand. Missguided have that essence and they have a good idea of who they are, but there are so many fine lines with the essence. Where you have this quite quirky tone of voice, they didn’t want it to come across as being cliquey or bitchy in any way. They wanted it to be inclusive and cool. We tried to design the store to be inclusive but also quite classy and cool. It’s easy to cross that line into tackiness, but I think the codes that we decided on really told that story.