Taking the temperature of the retail design market recently, it was interesting to learn that Selfridges might be looking at its cost base - which retailer isn't? - but is also investing in new areas at its London flagship and at its Manchester branch.

There is a theory that has been doing the rounds that the top end retailers have proved relatively resilient in the face of the credit crunch.

That particular line of thinking might seem confirmed when you look at the fact that Harrods is now well down the road of remodelling a fair portion of its menswear department across two floors.

But there again, look at Neiman Marcus, the luxury department store group in the US, which unveiled last month that sales in January were down by almost a quarter compared with the same period last year. If you were the Neiman Marcus vice-president of finance and were faced with the task of updating the store portfolio or saving a bit of cash, what might you feel inclined to do?

The truth of the matter is that there is very little consistency about the manner in which retailers are improving their stores, whether you consider the top, middle or bottom of the market. And perhaps the only thing that can safely be said in all of this is that there is little that can safely be said.

Retailers are certainly spending money on design at the moment and they are doing so ahead of other areas that might previously have been afforded higher priority, but it is really a matter of deciding what needs to be done and what can commercially be held back until things improve.

Practically every job that has been commissioned so far this year has involved graphics and a lick of paint rather than real environmental changes. And the good thing about this is that even those finding the going not merely tough but positively murderous are still in a position to carry out this (less costly) kind of work.

Design consultancies will have to work harder to accrue the level of fees that they might previously have taken for granted, but on the other hand there is still work out there.

Running faster to stay in the same place seems to be what it's all about, whether you're a design company or a retailer. And if a retail superstar such as Selfridges continues to do its bit to ensure that it keeps shining, then others along the food chain should be seriously considering their priorities as well.

Topics