PC World’s Enfield branch is the test bed for DSGi boss John Browett’s plans to revive the group’s computing brand. John Ryan goes to the north London suburbs to investigate

PC World managing director Keith Jones stands at the threshold of the Enfield outpost of his empire. He isn’t happy. “I don’t like that,” he says, pointing at something deep within the store. This turns out to be a poster-like frieze that has been strung up across part of the back of the shop and is one of the few things that Jones isn’t keen on.

This is hardly surprising when you consider that Enfield is the retailer’s great white hope for revival. DSGi chief executive John Browett spoke last month of the need to reinvent PC World for today’s retail world. And the 20,000 sq ft (1,860 sq m) Enfield store – one of a handful of branches in which a new look and layouts are being piloted – is certainly different from the majority of the retailer’s portfolio.

For a start, you can see from one end of the shop to the other – a feat not normally possible in a PC World because the mid-floor equipment is usually set out in variations of a fan-like arrangement, which obstructs the view. There is also little sense of a racetrack carrying shoppers around the interior because the grid layout, which provides access to a central hub, means that shoppers can choose the course they take.

There would be little point to this, however, if the signage was not up to scratch, because the problem facing many people entering a technology store is way-finding. PC World head of store design Michael Dykes says that one of the outcomes of an extensive piece of customer research that has been ongoing more or less since Browett took the helm at DSGi has been that shoppers can’t find what they are looking for quickly enough.

He says the Enfield store’s design was approached in three stages: layout, followed by introducing the brand and, finally, the range itself. Finding one’s way around the store is now relatively simple: large signs detailing product categories are strung up overhead. While this might sound like a formula for visual pollution, signage has been deployed sparingly, encouraging shoppers to use it in the way that is intended rather than mentally discounting it, as is so often the case.

The signage has been redesigned in line with the makeover of the PC World brand, which has been used in all areas of the store. Traditionally, the logo is in a distinctly loud-mouthed, masculine font. This is fine, except that it does little to address the female 51 per cent of the population.

Dykes says that the soft purple used for the logo and the interior as a whole was designed to have greater appeal for women and claims that, since the store was launched in March, feedback from female customers has been positive.

From Jones’s front-of-shop perspective, another thing should be obvious: a lot of the equipment that has been used in this store is different from a standard PC World. The digital camera area serves as a case in point. The cameras are displayed on large, square, wood-clad boxes with glass sides that show off the shiny, precious quality of the merchandise. Each camera has its own PC World-purple plinth, forcing the onlooker to check out the merchandise rather than the equipment on which it is displayed – a perennial problem for merchants of small, high-value items.

Case in point
In the row immediately behind, there are similar units, but with one important difference: they have glass display cases on top of them. The cases themselves are noteworthy because they are not framed as in most jewellery retail outlets but are formed instead from boxes where glass-edge meets glass-edge.

This is a modern, upscale treatment that has been implemented for a good reason: the glass cases are where the high-end stock is kept. So, if you fancy splashing out about£670 on a digital SLR camera, then this is the part of the shop for you. What’s more, Dykes claims that plans are in place to put cameras of even higher value into this store.

Inside the cases, the cameras sit on a white, back-lit translucent sheet, “giving dignity to the product”, as Dykes puts it. And, as this is a niche destination department within the store, a discreet cash desk has been incorporated into one of the units.

The camera department serves as a microcosm for much of the interior design thinking that has gone into this store. By their very nature, most of the departments – laptops, PCs and even TVs – tend to be destinations, so Dykes and his in-house team have worked hard to create a sense of shop-in-shops.

In the dead centre of the store is the circular hub – home to laptops – that houses a funnel-shaped feature overhead, bearing the PC World logo. Buying a laptop is a considered purchase, yet it is surprising how little thought is given to the environment in which these pieces of technology are placed. At PC World in Enfield, shoppers may find themselves in a retail shed, but, when they arrive at the laptop area, they are confronted by what Dykes calls “a series of organic shapes”. These are asymmetric dark wooden tables with high stools in front of them to perch on as you test-drive the machinery.

As part of PC World’s core range, laptops are given pride of place in this mid-shop and, despite the space-hungry tables, Dykes says there are more models on display than in a similarly sized area at other branches.

This is one of the few areas in the store that does not conform to the grid layout and the units that surround it have been curved to make space for the tables. Beyond this lurks the white-on-grey Apple logo, denoting its eponymous shop-in-shop, where a computer’s appearance is every bit as vital as its function. Dykes says that, since Apple took the decision to sell from within other retailers’ premises, its PC World presence has proven very successful and the Enfield store is a natural evolution of this.

Next along is the TV department. TVs are a relatively new departure for PC World and it might seem curious that you would go to a computer store for a large, state-of-the-art plasma TV. The reason is simple: computers and TVs are on a convergence path, according to Dykes, and therefore it makes sense for TVs to be part of PC World’s range.

Virtually the whole of the rear of the shop is devoted to tellies and, here, the ceiling level has been lowered and covered with a black-mesh screen on to which spotlights have been attached. The aim, presumably, is to create a living room ambience, giving shoppers the chance to relax. This is confirmed by the many sofas dotted around the area. Dykes says: “There are those moments of truth when you need to be able to consider on your own and not feel as if you’re about to be ripped off.”

Certainly, walking around this carpeted space, there is an immediate impression of having left the rest of the store behind. Dykes says that dwell times at the Enfield branch have increased to about an hour in slower-paced areas such as TVs and this is not difficult to believe. And, in a small room leading off the TV department, there is a sound lounge, where shoppers can sit in comfort as they assess the quality of multi-speaker systems that are linked to top-of-the-range flatscreen TVs.

There are, of course, a lot more elements to the store than this, with everything from printers to computer peripherals, memory to MP3s – all within a store that is different to what most PC World shoppers are familiar with.

For Jones, this is a work in progress. “It’s a laboratory and has been a laboratory for some time,” he says. This would explain the problem with the frieze, which Dykes says was put up only the night before. Jones continues: “It had become crystal clear that our customers found our stores more difficult than they should be. What we’ve done here is to take some of the sacred cows [of this type of retailing] and turn them into hamburgers.”

In the right setting, a hamburger can be just the thing. There are plans for more flame-grilled pilot stores ahead of the October/November peak trading and, if all goes to plan, Enfield lookalikes will be seen more widely in 2009.

PC World, Enfield

Size: 20,000 sq ft (1,860 sq m)

Design: in-house

Number of additional SKUs: 600

Number of additional 1.2m bays: 40

What’s new: colour scheme, layout and branding