The retailer’s revamped store at Bluewater focuses on product interaction and a female-friendly environment.

Shopping centres are a bit like old trees inasmuch as there is a surefire way of judging their maturity. With malls, instead of the number of concentric rings that can be seen when a tree is chopped down, you only need to visit a long-stay tenant and ask how many refurbishments the unit has been through.

In the case of the Currys/PC World unit at Bluewater, which opened in 1999, the number is four, meaning not just that this is a centre that has been around for a while, but also that the fascias’ owner, Dixons, has been keen to keep its store up-to-date. At the end of last week, as it opened the doors on the latest makeover of this store, it looked like it was succeeding in that ambition.

To list briefly the various Currys/PC World incarnations, when Bluewater opened this was a Dixons store, plain and simple. Later, it morphed into a Currys Digital shop with a green and red fascia, and then became Currys/PC World, boasting a purple and dark blue and white frontage. In its latest incarnation, it has retained the latter colour palette but inside things have changed and this is now a play park for technology fans and, more specifically, women.

Evolving format

Anybody who has followed the developing story that is Dixons/Currys/PC World will be aware that what is on view in Bluewater is the outcome of developments that can be seen in retail arenas as diverse as Gatwick and a Harrods shop-in-shop. At Gatwick’s South Terminal the new-look store that was unveiled just a few weeks ago is designed for speed and ease of purchase, combined with the ability to play with the merchandise. Quentin Bossom, head of design at Dixons, says that one of the starting points for the 5,000 sq ft Bluewater store redesign was “a re-engineering of the offer”. He explains: “In the past, in stores like this we’ve tried to make mini-megas [Currys/PC World Megastores], which was wrong, because things are different in a shopping centre. We’ve listened to our customers too, who told us that we were stopping them playing, so this store is about allowing them to play.”

One thing that is immediately apparent about the store from the moment the shopper stands poised at the entrance is that the numerous mid-shop tables are not just low, they are all attractively lit from beneath. Aesthetically, this is easier on the eye than the more masculine ‘playtables’ that were the basis of the Dixons Black store in Birmingham a couple of years ago. The other point is that they are smaller.

This not only improves the chances of in-store circulation but it means that the offer is more readily browsable.

Scattered around this sea of wood-clad units in the mid-shop are what Bossom refers to as ‘beacon tables’. Beacon because each features a 3D white ‘flash’ that rises from the middle of the table, and because they are intended to showcase the flagship products in each of the store’s categories. Each beacon table also has a pair of seats at one end, intended, according to Bossom, to enable the shopper to play with the tablet that is on top of each of the tables.

Flexible design

Away from the mid-shop, the perimeter walls are totally modular and feature wood surround goalposts, providing a frame for each of the categories that is on display. Bossom is keen to demonstrate the flexibility of what has been done, going as far as to have one of the wooden surrounds removed, piece by piece, in order to show how readily the perimeter can be remerchandised.

The star of this particular show, however, is neither a mid-shop selling table nor a perimeter goalpost - it is the service desk. That is Bossom’s name for a cash desk that doubles up as a place where shoppers can bring their techno worries and seek advice because there is an attached Knowhow area.

The service desk has a candy-striped wallpaper background and is visible from the moment entry is made into the store. Bossom says the design has been done in-house and that it is about giving the store something that will
not be on view in any other location because it is bespoke. Behind all of this, and in a semi-discrete location, there is a ‘business lounge’, where comfy seats and advice desks, as well as the striped wallpaper, all form part of the equation. Worth mentioning too are the windows, one of which features Converse All Starsesque-coloured shoes suspended from coloured cords - they serve little purpose other than as mood-setters for the store interior. This is a technology store where play and enjoyment have been put at a premium, which is different from the run-of-the-mill, masculine set-ups that tend to characterise shops in the sector.

Bossom says this is a store that is supposed to point to the “future of the high street” for Dixons. It is a long way from the Dixons stores of old and just as far from the Currys Digital format that can still be found on high streets across the country.

It is also in keeping with the low-key but restrained mood of technology design at the moment.

If you were looking at how to create interest in this sector, while maintaining sales densities, the chances seem good that you might arrive at a generally PoS-free solution of the kind that is on show in Bluewater. Dixons, like the shopping centre itself, has come some distance since the mall opened more than a decade ago and with this latest Currys PC World iteration it looks as if it is still keeping up with the pace.

Currys PC World, Bluewater

Design In-house

Size 5,000 sq ft

Ambience The tech future of the high street

Opened September 5