As pioneering supermarket chain, Amazon Fresh, ramps up its UK investment with five new stores announced this month, Richard Evans, Key Account Director at Wates Smartspace explores the impact on the fit-out industry and how fit-out specialists can support the changing face of retail.

“Retail is one of the most competitive industries in the UK and as a result, it evolves at a pace that largely goes unnoticed by the everyday consumer. So much of our buying behaviour is a subconscious process that we often make a choice that we may not know was in some way influenced by our surroundings. As a fit-out provider working in retail, this pace of change guides our work. A retail project ten years ago is worlds away from where we are now; e-commerce adds more competition to retail and tech evolves the way we shop. All of that change is only possible for retail if the fit-out industry can evolve in tandem.

Richard Evans Wates Smartspace
Richard Evans, Key Account Director at Wates Smartspace

“One thing that we as fit-out providers are acutely aware of is that where one leads, others must follow. Trends are borne when someone pushes the boundaries and in retail, trends are transformative. Take, for example, self checkouts. In 2002, Marks and Spencer held a 12-week self checkout trial. A year later, Tesco followed with its own self checkout system, though Sainsbury’s is widely cited as the first to pioneer self checkout in 1950. Self check out isn’t everyone’s preferred choice but we universally expect to see them in our supermarkets. New technology in the early 2000s is now part of our everyday lives. 

“In retail, most changes are designed to create speed and convenience. Buying groceries is not something done primarily for leisure and so, to remain competitive, supermarket chains continually look at ways they can make our lives easier. This is where Amazon Fresh has raised the bar and created a seismic shift for retail. Short of supermarket home deliveries, buying our groceries can’t be made much more convenient than being able to walk in and out of a shop without the need for a single transaction. And just like other technologies that have transformed the way we shop, these checkout free stores are here to stay.

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“What this means for the fit-out industry is that we have a duty to facilitate this transformation. Retailers put their expertise into their offer to consumers, backed up by research, trends data and innovations in technology. But their visions need to be brought to life. We simply can’t step into a project and treat it as though it were a store fit-out in 2015. We need to understand their strategy, the service they provide and the buying habits they are responding to and influencing. Only then can we deliver a fit-out project that helps to transform retail.

“Fit-out providers also need to understand that physical retail spaces are much more than just stores; they are goldmines for data that supermarket chains can use to enhance consumer experiences. The ways that we shop, the time we spend and the products that we prefer are all useful pieces of information for retailers to be able to adapt their space, products and systems in-line with what consumers want and need.”