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Finding the feel-good factor

Nobody likes being in a building that is too hot or too cold, too stuffy or draughty, dark or bright. People are uncomfortable in such places, unlikely to revisit them and often unproductive there. By contrast, common sense tells us better places are better for us. However, just what difference does feeling better actually make? How does it affect the way we behave and perform? It is this simple need to understand the significance of how buildings make us feel that is driving property professionals to investigate links between the physical environment and human behaviour.

For M&S, the question is whether there is a relationship between sustainable store design and the health, wellbeing and productivity of our staff and customers. Accordingly, a key commitment included in Plan A 2020 states that by 2016, we will complete a study into the effect sustainable retail buildings can have in terms of health, wellbeing and associated commercial benefits, and apply lessons learned.

Seeing the Whole Picture

Historically, the focus for environmental-improvement benefits to our property portfolio has been placed on resource efficiency, cost savings and carbon reduction.

Taking into account additional benefits to health, wellbeing and productivity introduces the potential to see sustainable store design and refurbishment becoming a revenue generator, too.

Starting with our development of Sustainable Learning Stores, such as Cheshire Oaks and Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, plus post-occupancy evaluation work on Simply Food refurbishments, we had already identified that both customers and employees were happier, more satisfied as a result. At Cheshire Oaks, 85% of customers surveyed found the temperature to be comfortable throughout the store, plus there was a 22% increase in employee satisfaction levels. The Simply Food refurbishments were also described by 60% of customers as making shopping at M&S more enjoyable.

Whilst such feedback and data is great for specifics, we still need to see the whole picture. We also understood our work in this area would be more powerful and meaningful in collaboration with others, and we were delighted to become the only retail organisation to sponsor the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) Better Places for People campaign.

What We Are Doing

As part of the Better Places for People campaign, we have helped develop a Retail Metrics Framework, which we now want to pilot at M&S.

Lessons learned from previous studies suggest that engagement with stakeholders from across the breadth of our business will be a key factor in the success of the retail pilot. Therefore, from Customer Services and HR, to Customer Insight and Facilities Management, we have already begun sifting through data and sharing insights on the impact of store design.

Whilst applying the framework retrospectively tells us some of the story, the full pre- and post-refurbishment project assessment – due next year – will really fill in the gaps in our collective knowledge. It will provide the Better Places for People campaign with a complete before-and-after case study, and us with better knowledge about our stores.

Understanding the complexities of what makes people happy at work and in shops will help answer straightforward-sounding questions such as, ‘Do stores with more daylight have higher sales?’ The link between better places and better business is people – their health, wellbeing and enjoyment are critical feel-good factors for retail. This is why creating better places for people is among our Plan A targets.

An extended version of this blog can be found on the M&S Plan A Blog. Please see M&S’ Case Studies on Cheshire Oaks and Ecclesall Road for more information.

Zoe Young, Project Manager, Property Plan A, M&S is a member of the Better Places for People Steering Committee.