Being retail interior designers we are always interested in keeping an eye on the local retail market, latest projects and new store designs. With this in mind we leapt at an invitation from the guys at Mojo PR to check out the new Virgin Megastore opening at The Dubai Mall yesterday. At this point it would be remiss of me not to mention our admiration for the Virgin brand and stores in the MENA region, the Virgin Megastores are some of our favourite stores, not necessarily from a design point of view but from a consumer point of view.
When we set up Studio EM that there were a few retailers we pin pointed as being the dream clients, clients that if we ever designed one of their stores then we could say we have arrived as being top level retail designers and Virgin was one of them. Unfortunately at this point we have to point out that we did not design this store, the design was handled in house at Azadea HQ by Nisreen Shocair the President of Virgin Megastore Middle East and Operations Manager Becker Azzan.
Taking a store in The Dubai Mall was somewhat long overdue in our opinion, Virgin Megastore is such an enviable anchor store, a testament to this is that I always said that The Dubai Mall was never quite complete without it, now three years after The Dubai Mall first opened, it is now the “complete mall” in our opinion thanks to the installation of the Virgin Megastore. Often in the past we favoured Mall of the Emirates as a shopping destination simply because it had a Virgin Megastore where if all else failed we could get lost in listening to music or reading books for a few hours.
With that in mind perhaps it is apt to mention the first thing we noticed when we arrived apart from the ginormous explosion of red noticeable from up to 100 metres away was the large storefront with the almost ironic and tongue in cheek “We Are Here” slogan scattered across the glass façade and the entry points, this made us chuckle greatly as we too used this slogan in our media packs when we first opened Studio EM. When Virgin Megastore say “We Are Here” boy oh boy do they mean it, this is a store from the Azadea Group where they have not held back, nor have they simply pushed a copy and paste mould of previous stores upon us, this is a store where they have started to push the boundaries that bit further to separate them form their competitors, not necessarily through the store design as much as its content and features.
What strikes us about this store is that it is more than just a pick and sell store concept like traditional outlets, the store is an entertainment centre, an interactive hub of sorts, every element of the store design and layout lends itself to be touched, felt, sampled or heard. This store encourages you to get involved, to try before you buy and to get lost in the entertainment. This is the most noticeable element of this store for us that differentiates it from all others, we asked Nisreen Shocair the President of Virgin Megastore Middle East if this interactive element was at the forefront of her mind when coming up with the store concept, as we often feel that Dubai stores suffer from a “look but don’t touch” mentality in their designs, this was Nisreen’s response:
The most important part of her answer that hits the nail on the head as far as we are concerned is that “most retailers are not as concerned with the customer’s experience, as they are with sales”. This in a nutshell is where Virgin Megastore is making a difference and running ahead in the market. They are creating retail spaces that are an experience not just a “go-to” point to purchase products, this philosophy is most apparent in this store.
So what about this store is it that creates an experience? Firstly the space, 25,800 Sqft of single level retail space is a very large area, have they taken this space and jammed it full of products and point of sales? Have they heck, they have used the space correctly and created a great flow around the store, everything has its place, its station and its own room to breathe, standout and most importantly, to be used! Be it the “Apple” station at the front of the store or the instrument station next to the “Yamaha Wall” or the “Fender” column.
The most appealing source of interaction in the store is the inclusion of new, cool, trendy pieces of technology, there are iPad stations set up at every opportunity. You can now listen to your favourite tracks on the iTunes library on the iPads over each music station, certainly a huge development since the days of the remote CD changer that always skipped after a few plays. There are smatterings of games consoles around the store which many of the press gang including our own Business Development Manager spent quite a bit of time on yesterday, the favourite being this awesomely retro piece of kit:
Everything about this store is designed to keep you there, to keep you active and entertained, what we applaud the most about this store is that it clearly shows that the team at Virgin have learned from their previous stores through subtle yet effective inclusions such as this reading stool;
It is a simple design element added that just makes you feel all the more welcome and at home but it is the simple things that make the greatest difference. Similarly the use of the iPads, this says “go on, enjoy our product, have a play have a feel, see if you like, perhaps buy it, perhaps not but enjoy the experience” whereas other stores say, “we don’t trust you not to break it, so we keep it locked behind a finger smudged glass cabinet and if you want it you have to buy it” again this is further highlighted by the cool DJ mixing decks at the back of the store, this is some seriously expensive equipment, but Virgin have set it out and encourage us to use it, to mix, to have a bit of fun and again perhaps to buy it, there is no force feeding going on here or mind tricks, it is simple but effective retailing and we applaud Virgin for being bold enough to do this, for giving consumers the respect and credit they deserve.
Another feature that further highlights where Virgin have learned from their mistakes in the past is the new ticket counter at the back of the store, finally separated from the cashier, all too often in the past it was tedious queuing to purchase a DVD or CD while there was a mad rush on for tickets to the latest concert, Virgin have fixed this by setting up this new box office, cleverly located at the back of the store to encourage full store penetration.
There are so many features we enjoy about this store but in reality from a design point of view there is nothing particularly innovative (except for the gratuitous use of the technology we mentioned earlier) or unique about the store design. It is clean, simple and does its job. Perhaps we are being slightly critical but some elements of the store don’t seem to be finished, it is obviously missing graphics in key areas such as at the DJ Booth, although this is a great idea, you can’t help but feel it gets lost in the backdrop of the red within the store nevertheless the store is only just opened so this maybe something that will get fixed. The lighting is overdone, it is a touch too bright but it is well done in a sense as it is uniform throughout the entire store and guides the eye line, however there is just too many fittings that creates a cluttered effect.
The category signage and the till area are our favourite elements of the store design, take the signage, the simple usage of the contrasting lighting lifts the signage off the walls as opposed to the normal monotonous signage we are so used to in store design. The till area is certainly our favourite design feature, what it does well is to break up the contrast red and white horizon throughout the store, this is something that could have been included more often especially in the interactive zone.
Nevertheless we are clutching at straws here, the design is relatively clean and non-offensive and when we nit-pick and say that the design is hardly innovative we are being slightly harsh but the beauty is that because of the products, point of sales and customer flow the design does not have to be flashy or innovative, it simply has to lend itself well to the intended purpose, to promote the product, encourage happy shoppers and to keep us inside and purchasing and this is a store design that achieves all of these goals.
Below are some more store images.
President Nisreen Shocair outside the new store.