Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Success in a downturn

A recent study conducted by the Design Council has revealed that 'more than half of UK businesses are using design to help them to survive the economic downturn', while the number of businesses who feel that design is integral to their business has doubled in the past three years. Which leads me to explore a topic I have been pondering for several weeks - namely, what will 2009 hold in store for UK retail?

A quick scan of the papers and magazines of the past few months show that thiftyness, eco-trends, and the demise of the highstreet are already hot topics and we have seen what happens to companies that have failed to move with the times as Woolworths and Whittards went into administration. So which businesses will thrive and why?

As consumers struggle with the environmental consiciousness developed in 2007 and 2008 coupled with a reduced disposable income, companies who offer - or appear to offer - both ethical and monetary value in the products they sell will do well. The co-op has been doing this for a while, while the tone of the new Thompson holiday adverts seems to pay homage to the sentiment. Highstreet fashion brands are taking the inconspicuous consumption approach - with American Apparel and H&M's January window displays looking decidedly understated and monotone.

And what will become of luxury and artisan brands? If credit crunchers do decide to treat themselves to something special, they will no doubt want to feel they are also getting a little something extra. This may be found in the service - places like Rococo Chocolates and the Monmouth Coffee shop pride themselves on their free samples, and knowledgeable, attentive staff. Or it might be in the shopping experience - the new Dunhill store in Mayfair also has bar, private screening room, and barber on site. Or it might be in the finishing touches, which is where this newfound commitment to design will come in. Consumers will demand beautiful packaging, a stunning, navigable website, and a welcoming, comfortable shopping environment if they are to feel their precious pounds are going further.

2009 is going to be a tough ride for everyone, no matter what industry, but it will be those companies who insist on pushing boundaries and exploring the new, who will enchant their customers and come out the other side.

For the Design Council's list of companies working with designers to improve their performance during challenging conditions, click HERE.