Although many of the forums are a pitch by another name, it’s always worth taking a few in. The first I sat in on was organised by POPAI. In the midst of all the POP exhibitors in hall 2 it struck me that the emphasis always seems to be on structure, form and embellishment with less regard for the way that shoppers might interact with displays. It points up one of the biggest challenges for brands in retail space: if everybody is shouting loudly how does shouting in the same way actually help?

STI Group touched on this in their talk. They claimed to be using a scientific method of assessing temporary displays in store, both through online surveys and small store trials. There were lots of slides with impressive looking visualised eye-tracking data. We could see how this worked on single units but it really only focussed on a customer standing on a fixed point staring at one display, when the reality for the shopper is moving through a space in a blizzard of competing messages and displays. A more fruitful approach to this conundrum would be to get back to unearthing customer-relevant insights that give you more precise ways to target and engage.

In contrast, Cheil’s campaign style approach seemed to offer more effective ways to reach customers by thinking through a wider approach (and at least their talk was more entertaining). It demonstrated how we all need to move beyond purely focussing what happens in store and consider where else the shoppers attention might be and how they’re influenced by what they encounter both before and during the shopping trip.

As mentioned, these can often be pitches but a couple of things stood out. At one of the Architecture & Design forums Marcos Andrade, of Expor Mannequins clearly wanted to tell us how valuable mannequins could be, increasing the likelihood of sales of garments displayed on them by 42%. But the principle he was on about is right and it goes for most other areas of store display. At its core it’s about context. Bringing things to life and helping the customer envision how they would wear or use something will always help to bridge the “imagination gap” that can often prevent a sale.

One thing he said though really stuck. In describing the South American market he cited research where one shopper revealed that they viewed a store visit as a “15 minute vacation”. It’s such a good phrase and goal to bear in mind when we think about creating in-store experiences.

Eric Feigenbaum, editor of VMSD Magazine, gave a passionate defence of the physical store arguing that new in-store digital technology has to be part of an overall strategy rather than tacked on. And of course, he’s absolutely right. Putting a few screens in store which simply play the most recent TV ad or regurgitate the retailer’s website miss the point of digital completely. At its best digital offers a way to build on the shoppers at-home digital activity to provide something that they can only experience in store.

If you didn’t manage to venture beyond the halls, you can read about some of our favourite Dusseldorf stores in this article.

Tim Bevin-Nicholls