Electricals giant Dixons has launched two new-store designs – one a Currys and PC World in London’s Canary Wharf shopping centre and the second featuring a remodelled kitchen department at the Thurrock megastore.
Two stores, same company, almost completely different approaches. Visit the Currys PC World stores in Thurrock and Canary Wharf and apart from the name over the door, you might be inclined to conclude that you are looking at offers from two entirely different retailers.
Although this might be overstating what has been done, there are massive differences as far as the in-store experience is concerned in both stores.
The branch at Lakeside Retail Park in Thurrock is a consumer electronics and white goods megastore, while the other is an almost airport-style outlet that offers convenience and the latest electronic gadgetry.
What the two have in common is that they are a response to highly specific local demographics and shopping missions.
Katie Bickerstaffe, chief executive UK and Ireland for Dixons Retail, Currys PC World’s parent, says: “We think a great deal about how customers will shop in a specific location. The beauty of our rolling portfolio programme is that we can trial new concepts in a variety of locations, tweaking and fine-tuning them as we go, to continuously improve.
“Having permission to fail is hugely important when pushing boundaries, to create innovative in-store experiences.”
In this instance, Bickerstaffe’s words mean that there has been some pretty extensive “tweaking” of the first floor in the Thurrock leviathan.
By contrast, in the half-pint-sized Canary Wharf store it’s a case of in-mall relocation and an almost complete rethink of what the customer in that locality might require.
Lakeside ThurrockWide open spaces are relatively uncommon in stores these days because the vast majority of retailers seek ways of taming such retail prairies and making things more manageable for shoppers. However, the ground floor of the store is a very large space and it is programmed for a complete makeover later this year.
Upstairs, although the first-floor footprint is also substantial at 25,000 sq ft, there is just one thing that really hits the eye: the kitchenware department.
That is curious because Currys PC World is not normally the place shoppers head for when seeking merchandise of this kind.
Bickerstaffe explains the thinking behind it: “We’ve significantly grown our white goods business over the last two years and wanted to explore new opportunities to continue that growth and maximise our potential.
“We wanted to create a department for all things related to the kitchen and put an interesting edited range in front of our customers. Thurrock is a great store and gave us the opportunity to try something of this scale.”
This is a consumer electronics lifestyle offer and it is a reflection of the fact that a visit to the store can be a leisurely one that allows time for the customer to make considered purchases, rather than just being on a mission.
Practically, that means where there might normally be serried ranks of white fridges, freezers, hobs and cookers, here the department has been organised on a diagonal to the roughly square floorplate. And colour plays an important part. Smeg fridges, for instance, are displayed in a line, each of a different hue.
Kitchen implements, ranging from porcelain mixing bowls to brightly coloured spoons and spatulas, are also present, creating the impression of a new-look John Lewis rather than a Currys PC World.
Bickerstaffe says she hopes the new approach might be taken to other large-format Currys PC World stores, but that “it’s too early to tell”.
The new-look first floor has been in place for less than a month and as well as a new interior design, investment has been made in “colleague training”, according to Bickerstaffe.
At 2,100 sq ft, the Currys PC World in Canary Wharf that opened on April 11 is just short of being twice the size of the “technology playground” at Gatwick airport, which Dixons opened in the middle of last year. This still makes it a very small shop and, like many other units in this location, it is narrow and deep, meaning that the number of shopfronts in the high-density mall is maximised.
Practically, each store has to make the most of its frontage if it is to stand a chance of getting shoppers through the door. For Currys PC World, that translates into one window with a flatscreen TV showing promos for the products in the store, while the other gives views into the shop itself. Both windows have the same overhead Currys PC World logo suspended from the ceiling just inside the glassline.
Quentin Bossom, senior development manager of the Dixons design team, is quick to point out what makes this branch different: “There are categories that are not in here – printers is one of them. This means that where we stock a category we max it.”
Peer through the right-hand window and Bossom’s words are made reality. The perimeter wall has a floor-to-ceiling display of headphones. The intention is to suggest product authority, and there are plenty of small but generally upscale electrical products that should appeal to the well-heeled bank workers who make their way downstairs to eat and shop at speed. And speed is of the essence in this shop.
The Canary Wharf shopper, according to Bossom, does not have a great deal of time. That means the categories on display have to demonstrate depth and the business of shopping has to be straightforward and rapid. “Over Christmas, click-and-collect accounted for 30% of our sales in all stores,” says Bossom. He says the tech-savvy shoppers at Canary Wharf are more likely to embrace that form of shopping than elsewhere and therefore the store is skewed towards making it easy. At the candy-striped Payment & Services desk at the back of the store, the doors of the cupboards behind the counter slide sideways to reveal pigeonholes where click-and-collect orders await their owners.
The store does face an operational issue because its stockroom is about 500m away, according to Bossom. That is the almost inevitable consequence of being on the main drag in Canary Wharf, where selling areas are maximised and non-selling space is kept to the bare minimum.
This Currys PC World is a store for the time-pressed and cash-rich – those for whom time really is money and where being an early adopter of new technology is part of an overall lifestyle.
Two stores, one retailer
The notion of different stores for different shopping missions is hardly new.
Yet what Dixons has done with its branches at Thurrock and Canary Wharf is a stark illustration of how diverse a retailer needs to be in its approach to meeting customer needs and ensuring that the right ranges and store interiors are in place.
Bickerstaffe says: “Our store design is really important to us – we try hard to keep pushing ourselves to get better.”
The best store design is frequently characterised as being about evolution rather than revolution. But the Thurrock store in particular certainly looks like a departure from the norm.