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Elevating retail presentation to meet contemporary customer demand

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Our new Retail Placemaker Sally Ngai shares insight into how traders need to engage customers in new, innovative and experimental ways and adapt presentation style to align with post-Covid customer preferences.

Fast forward to 2022 and I am now a visual merchandiser with years of experience in empowering traders to improve shopfront presentation and create an engaging experience that creates a clear pathway to customer purchase. I find my heart a little heavy at the current state of play in some of these iconic Melbourne streets.

Changes in Australian economic activity during the Covid pandemic were the largest in close to a century (Reserve Bank of Australia, 2022). Decreased foot traffic, vacant storefronts, vandalism and ‘For Lease’ signs are still extremely visible in many mainstreets, including Lygon and Chapel, detracting from the streetscape amenity and vibe. But the story that is really playing out here is one of economic ecosystems still struggling to play catch-up with post-Covid consumer behaviour.

Reserve Bank of Australia reporting of the Australian economy in March 2022 demonstrates that, after a wobbly few years, consumption has resumed across Australia in retail, food and beverages, recreation and cultural goods, as demonstrated in the graph below (RBA March 2022).

It is critically important right now that retailers proactively evolve their presentation and offer to meet contemporary customer expectations or they will miss out on their share of this household consumption spending increase.

How has consumer behaviour changed?

  • Younger people are confident returning to stores, while many older generations are still nervous

  • Health and safety expectations of consumers have evolved, people want to see evidence that retailers are taking their safety seriously

  • People are more likely to engage with brands they feel emotional connections with

  • Customers are looking for opportunities to support local brands and products

  • Consumers are more likely to research products and made purchase decisions in advance

The flip side of this disruption provides retailers with new opportunities to engage customers in new, innovative and experimental ways that align with changed demands.

Consumer behaviour, demand and expectations are evolving rapidly. It is imperative that retailers evolve their offer at the same speed, because no one wins a race to the bottom.

Valli Morphett, CEO Village Well

Village Well has been working with mainstreet traders in urban and regional centres for decades. We have observed significant opportunities for independent retailers to be more experimental, think beyond a purely transactional experience and promote values that reflect their own community.

Recommendations for traders to elevate their presentation and offer

Our top recommendations for 2022 mainstreet, market and commercial centre retailers to evolve to meet changing consumer demands:

  1. Start ‘speaking’ to younger generations - changing your shop front window display and marketing language to appeal to a younger demographic. Display a clothing retailer targeted toward Gen X or younger.

  2. Tell consumers how you are keeping them safe - don’t just keep people safe, tell them how you are doing it. This will inspire confidence and trust, particularly with older generations.

  3. Ephemeral artwork - create a memorable experience by featuring ephemeral artwork on your building façade or shopfront display. Public art can be a shared local experience. A mural has the power to be a memorable landmark and conversation starter, as well as attract new customers.

  4. Ensure your web presence matches the face-to-face offer - people are researching in advance and laser focused in their purchase behaviour, seeking to minimise browsing and human contact time (‘Post-COVID strategies for retailers,’ Deloitte 2020).

  5. Build local brand awareness - create activations, pop-ups and displays that showcase local products and brands. Consider sourcing more local products and host demonstrations and customer activities within your retail space.

  6. Declutter and mimimalise to create space - maintaining a minimalised clutter-free space, both inside and outside, will promote a happy, healthy and safe consumer experience. Minimalise the number of products displayed and provide clear space around them – scarcity can increase desire.

  7. Open up views - ensure the retail space is well lit, with clear inside/outside views maintained. This will increase welcoming appeal, and decrease anxiety and nervousness around customers stepping into an unknown environment.

  8. Create instagrammable displays and experiences - by making your local surrounds ‘instagrammable’ and ‘hashtagable’ you can create free advertising for your business and the local area.

  9. Talk to your customers – demand is changing rapidly. Keep your own customer feedback conduits open, track what is working, what is selling and what is falling flat. Continue to adapt.

One of the certainties of all of our futures is that change will continue to happen.

There are three types of business leader in this world: Those who make it happen; those who let it happen; and those who wondered what happened.

Ibrahim Ibrahim, Portland Design

My heartfelt plea to traders - the time to contemporise your offer is now! Elevate your presentation and curate experience to meet evolving customer expectations. BAU from 2 or more years ago doesn’t cut it anymore! By identifying changes in your unique consumer needs, and creating experiences that satisfy them, retailers can thrive in a post-Covid era.


  • Sally Ngai professional experiences

  • Village Well project observations

  • Tacking consumption during the Covid19 Pandemic, RBA 2022

  • ‘Post-COVID strategies for retailers,’ Deloitte 2020

  • Ibrahim Ibrahim on the future of retail design, World Coffee Portal 2021

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