Despite what many acknowledge to be dire trading conditions, new shops continue to roll out of the store development pipeline and investment is clearly still being made in store design.

To an extent, this is understandable. Tough times call for better-looking, more efficient stores – outlets that will stand a chance of attracting shoppers in a straitened retail environment.

And yet ask a bunch of retailers what their favourite shops are and it is surprising how few choose any of the big chains. On Friday, Retail Week published the 100 Stores You Must Visit and a quick scan through the names selected revealed an uncanny fact: the great bulk of the picks were independents.

There is probably a good reason for this. Choosing a small store or an indy puts the selector in that group of people that value local shopping and on-off design. These are the kind of stores that you visit for the service as much as the way they look.

Listening to Yellowdoor creative director Mary Portas talking at Summer Fair last week, she ventured the opinion that a large part of British retail had forgotten what service is about and that if this could be altered, the fortunes of the retailers involved would resume an upward path.

She added that service should mean rather more than knowing where something is in a store: it should add up to an in-depth knowledge of the products that are being sold.

Couple real service with slick store design and shoppers will be prepared to pay a premium. This is perhaps why among the great and the good who chose their 100 stores, it was Sir Terence Conran who opted for Waitrose, along with Tim Booth, the founder and creator of Iwantoneofthose.com.

Conran, the doyenne of British designers, chose a chain where shoppers expect to pay more than in other supermarkets, but are prepared to do so because all the elements stack up. Product knowledge, selection and an easy shop equate to a supermarket experience that is worth going back for.

There were, of course, others who chose from among the high street’s more familiar names with Lord Harris of Peckham plumping for DFS and Sir Geoff Mulcahy choosing Aldi.

This looks like a bold move when the available choices are considered, but the reasons given made sense.

Choosing a good-looking indy is easy because the owner only has to concentrate on one outlet, so the chances are that it will appear special.

But for those wishing to see a fantastic example of a multiple raising its game, then a trip to inspect the New Look store in Liverpool, which opened on Friday, is in order. This deserves to be a “must visit” if anything does.

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