You can learn just as much about a store’s performance by going back as you will on the initial visit. 

If you want to know what works and what doesn’t, the best thing is not to visit a store when it opens. This is when it will look its best. At no point in the future will the shop look quite as good as this and all of the features that tend to get written about will be headlined in a way that just won’t happen once shoppers (with luck) get busy.

Actually, if you want to know about how a store design functions, do go on opening day, or in the first week at least, and then pay another visit a few months down the line. A shimmy through West London on Saturday brought this into sharp focus. First up was “third way” supermarket, Union Market, on Fulham Broadway, which opened in July. From the outside, it was more or less the same as back in the summer. Inside however, the large bakery counter that had dominated the view as you entered had been radically reduced in size. A quick enquiry revealed that it had made the business of seeing what was going on in the rest of the shop a little tricky and it therefore made sense to shrink and lower it.

There was a coffee shop in one of the areas towards the front on the right hand side. This too had gone (absorbed into the coffee shop-cum-restaurant towards the back) and been replaced by a greater quantity of ambient grocery products. And there were cash desks close to the entrance. These had been more or less hidden previously, but now they were hard to miss. What exists today is a more commercial version of the original and a juice bar will also become part of the blueprint next month apparently. You live and learn.

Heading east, it was time to take a look at something completely different: Topshop Knightbridge. Probably the most remarkable feature in this store (which opened in May last year) was “The Spike”, a visual merchandising mirrored feature that started as a padded banquette in the basement and then pushed its way up through the two other floors to culminate in, well, a spike, at the top of the building.

It has been removed and there is almost no evidence that it ever existed unless you happen to look closely. Once again, commercial pragmatism and the need to make the most of the available space have asserted their primacy. Funny how quickly things change once the designers and press have moved on…

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