“No thanks, just taking pictures”

take pictures final.jpg.002.jpeg

“No thanks, just taking pictures”

Imagine saying that when a sales assistant asks if you need any help. You probably wouldn’t expect a great response. After all, it’s hardly normal. But what if it was?

Taking photos in shops is almost treated as a kind of daylight robbery. Some outlets have no photography policies. Others have security guards who’ll ask you to delete pictures. And hardly any embrace the opportunities this brings.

When did our shops become so impersonal?

Let’s go back to the beginning of the 20th century, when Harry Gordon Selfridge revolutionised the shopping experience. He knew that half of success was getting customers into his store and giving them an experience (as the sales figures showed). That’s why he created engaging stories behind the biggest display windows, added a café and restaurant, and built a roof garden to give his shoppers a well-deserved break.

He also turned a huge societal shift to his advantage. With women gaining more social and economic power, he knew the value of accommodating their developing shopping habits. By turning shopping into a leisure activity, he changed the industry.

“Harry Selfridge knew the value of accommodating developing shopping habits”

Fast forward a century and, while consumer habits have changed dramatically, shops haven’t. We all discuss experiential retail and like to think our brand is also a lifestyle. But the sad truth is most high street shops give us all the experiential thrill of a stockroom. In a literal take on the ‘sales per square foot’ equation, retailers are determined to get as much as they can from their expensive space. A model that leads to an uncomfortable compromise when businesses try to counteract online migration by turning the shop into a ‘brand lounge’.

And in spite of these efforts, online sales grow year upon year, as do rents and rates, while in-store footfall continues to drop. Just like a hundred years ago, the retail landscape is changing and consumer habits must be accommodated.

New technologies and social media have repositioned our definitions of experiencing, buying and sharing. Which in turn has repositioned the very idea of the shop.

So what would Harry Selfridge do?


The fact is, shops just aren’t for direct sales anymore. If we follow our customers’ behaviour, just like Harry Selfridge did, we’ll see that half of us, whatever our age, take pictures in shops (Euclid Analytics 2017). And for far more reasons than just to go home and buy online. We do it to compare prices, to share products with our friends or to get recommendations. And as we all know, peer-to-peer reviews are the biggest influence on consumer decisions.

“Half of us, whatever our age, take pictures in shops. And for far more reasons than just to go home and buy online.”

So how can we capitalise on these habits? How can we mobilise the mobiles? We start by looking at the advantages retail space has over online. Physical spaces are about sharing experiences and creating memories. So the inevitable answer is to design shops where the phone is part of the experience. Where the customer is free to play with the product and live the brand in a way they’ll want to share.

“People don’t take selfies of themselves ordering things on Amazon”

Doug Stephens, Retail Prophet.

Picture this

Imagine a shop that uses visual merchandising to not only draw you in, but to encourage you to interact with the product. Where garments are presented as thoughtfully assembled collections you can’t help but take photos of. Where the space is designed around your phone, so your product shots create a personalised catalogue. You use them to compare products online, share them on social media and order your favourites directly to a fitting room. You then use the specially tailored space to take professional-looking selfies to share with your friends.

This shop doesn’t need to display multiple copies of the same outfit. It doesn’t treat customers as consumers, it treats them as ambassadors – each one being empowered to share their experience with countless other shoppers. It doesn’t just accommodate their habits, it enhances them, turning the neighbourhood shop back into a friendly, social space.

Does that sound like the shop of the future?


Ola Handford is the Research & Development Director & Philip Handford is the Creative Director.

Campaign is an experiential & interior design agency.


Philip HandfordComment