Dew Gibbons + Partners




I recently had the fortune to travel around the islands of the mostly unexplored Philippines and go off the beaten track away from the main tourist areas. While of course I was supposed to be on a break, the surroundings couldn’t help but be a creative inspiration. I was taken aback by how local shopkeepers took pride in their stores and how they lovingly arranged their wares at the point of sale. Despite the shops largely consisting of a few breezeblocks topped with a tin sheet, even the most basic shack left most modern UK high street stores behind in their wake.

The shacks are painted in bold, unafraid colours. Think emerald green with a contrasting magenta interior to make you notice them: coming alive at nighttime with darkness surrounding them and illuminated by simple fluorescent strip-light. There was an almost miraculous ability to stack products into stylised – and towering - shapes to replace the plinths, pedestals and shelves that form the backbone of most modern retail stores.

Fruit and veg stores, in particular, were a feast for an avid shopper’s eyes. Each type of produce was arranged horizontally and vertically into attractive and colour-coordinated pyramids. Above it was more visual drama with smaller items hanging in neat rows of order and clarity. Little clear bags of fruit juice hanging like bags of water - reminding me of those bags of water and goldfish at the fair.

Even theoretically unattractive hardware stores had sparks of point of sale creativity: glass counters full of all the tins and boxes for you every need, again in size and colour-coordinated order - largest at the back, smallest at the front. While above paintbrushes were threaded and looped together into furry hanging spheres, contrasted by fellow metallic spikey spheres of screwdrivers.

I live just off the Walworth Road in South London. It's full of similarly sized shops. But very few, if any, retailers now show some pride in what they are selling and how the shop windows look from outside in. And even inside, there is little, if any level of ordered creativity, which is in such abundance in the Philippines. It’s not just about aesthetic appeal. This ordered display, helps us scan the shelves, find the products and – critically – invites us to look harder, and for longer. The creative use of shapes, structure and colour helps distinguish one similar shop from another – brand design at its most pure.

Even at the chain store level, few go into that level of detailed creativity. Regardless of store size, there’s a sterility and lack of personality. Now, as the retail shelf is now as much digital as it is in bricks and mortar, doing something different in-store to create the ‘smile in the mind’ moment and draw the customer in is vital if bricks and mortar shops are to survive, let alone thrive. If Britain is truly the nation of shopkeepers we’re reputed to be, we urgently need to put the Great back into it!

What I learnt from shopkeepers in the Philippines:

  • Creativity: Think about what arrangements will cause us the consumer to look and look again, think differently about the products you are selling
  • Organisation and way finding: Keep it simple, clear and easy to understand
  • Pride shines out: Taking pride in what’s selected and how it’s shown relaxes the consumer and invites them in
  • Smile: personal interaction is an area that online shopping can never win, the retail employee is an integral part of brand design

Nick Vaus is DewGibbons + Partners Creative Director, you can email him here.

Other articles by Nick:
Creativity is ageless: Iris Apfel
Black lace and golden feathers: Alexander McQueen