Gareth Huston is Principal at Warren and Mahoney.

One of the largest architecture firms in Australasia. The New Zealand group established a permanent base in Australia last year.

An award winning commercial design specialist with over 20 years’ experience throughout Europe, The Middle East, India, Australia and New Zealand, Huston has considerable expertise in delivering integrated customer experience design solutions.

This is his take on the new era of retail design.

In the current era you say we must rethink in-store design to enhance the customer experience. Why?

The 'Retail is Dead' analogy talks about a reinterpretation of the physical environment to balance the virtual environment. Online, social media and mobile interactions are exponentially on the rise as customers look to engage with brands in a way that suits their lifestyles. A complete view of all the customer touch points is essential for any business.

How does this new in-store design and layout look? What technology and materials can be specified?

Building innovative, multi-format and flexible physical environments means businesses can quickly adapt to changes in customer behaviour. By understanding customer needs, businesses can redefine the way that they interact with people. To transform the experience, businesses need to have an in-depth knowledge and focus on the customer and an understanding of best practice models. All change should be driven by the business with the customer in mind.

 National Australia Bank Smart Stores by Warren and Mahoney are technology enabled transactional environments that do not have tellers.

An analogy that explains the transformation change is the aviation industry - for airlines, automated self-service check-in has become the norm. But if the airlines had canvassed customers prior to introducing this technology, I am sure they would have had a negative response. People don't like change - but now the self-service transition is well accepted, even preferred. This illustrates how change can be successful through carefully planned transition.

The NAB smart stores are very similar. We designed self-service smart ATMs in the front of the store to transition customers away from the expectation of long queues. The transition to open plan allows staff to manage the floor and assist customers to self-serve. Then the next time they are in store, they will do the transaction themselves.

This works both ways - it enables the customer to choose how they would like to transact, it is efficient, and it also allows the staff to be more connected to customers as they are free to walk around and engage in more complex financial discussions.

How can you design your retail footprint in new ways?

Retailers are looking at ways to be more relevant and closer to their customer base. Pop up environments, kiosks and micro formats can form part of a larger network proposition, to build flexibility and innovation into the retail landscape. Multiple physical formats allow businesses to position themselves in high traffic areas such as supermarkets, airports and train stations.

What do you mean by 'design the customer experience'?

It means the desired experience - what you want the customers to think, feel, do - will inform the physical design. Defining this interaction will then enable the physical interpretation to support that transaction (which could be financial or a conversation). Designing the experience refers to an evidence-based design approach.

What retail design project are you most proud of and why?

Return on investment is at the forefront of any customer experience project. It is a business proposition with the customer central to the thought process.

The Warren and Mahoney re-definition of the Bank of New Zealand network was a very satisfying project. We were proud to be involved in completing a multi-tiered network rollout (180 stores throughout New Zealand in two and half years), which was transformative for both the customer and the business.

Reinterpreting the way we banked through a rigorous research and testing phase was fascinating and exciting. BNZ is a very forward thinking organisation that was prepared to transform banking in NZ - a great client and an exceptional result.


Images courtesy Warren and Mahoney