Static to digital: Inside the world’s largest H&M store

Spanning 8,000 sq m, the new H&M in Kuwait is the brand’s biggest store in the world and is not your average retail install. Paul Milligan speaks to those involved.

Situated on the site of the old Debenhams store, the new flagship store for H&M in the Avenues shopping mall in Kuwait is impressive in every respect.  Spanning more than 8,000 sq m, it has a marble façade, giant digital screens on the outside and inside, a children’s cinema, chill-out lunch, press area, walls of real foliage and a feature staircase spanning the two floors. The Avenues Mall is the largest shopping mall in Kuwait and the second largest mall in the Middle East.  As you would expect in the region, everything is completed to a very luxurious finish. You find marble throughout the store, imported from Italy costing $220 per sq m. if you haven’t noticed already, this is not the usual H&M store seen on European high streets.

Kuwait-based engineering company DeLite Group won the bid to be the main contractor and employed 2point0 Concepts as an AV and visualisation consultant.  The two companies had previously worked together on a number of installations in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. DeLite was formed in 1989 in Kuwait, and its portfolio of work includes projects for Al Shaya, the franchise holder for H&M in the Middle East and Africa.  Huseni Hakim, group marketing director, DeLite takes up the story; “We initially got a call from the project manager (saying it was going ahead), but we won the bid because of our complete approach, we can help with drawings, we understand how certain scenarios work, how the customer journey will go, what size the facades should be etc.”

The creation of this flagship store is part of a wider move from static to digital by H&M, but because, as Hakim says “the mindset of Middle East people is to do everything big, they wanted everything here to be massive.”

So what was the original client brief to DeLite? And did it change as time went on? “The client already had an idea of what they wanted, and had designs ready because the brand is already in the middle of a global digitisation process,” says Hakim.  “Our job was to look at that what was in the designs, at the early stage the designer has only prepared a layout for us.  We had to plan the digitisation process, moving from the static to the digital.  We liaised with the local H&M project manager and with the client direct in Sweden, and the content management team in the US.”

Videowalls consisting of LED tiles or giant LCD panels are central to this project, and can be seen wherever you are on either floor.  One the ground floor there is a 2m x 3m LED videowall on the store’s façade, a 3m x 6m LED videowall by the ground floor staircase, and a 10.5m x 2m LED videowall by a cashpoint in the women’s section. On the first floor there is an 2m x 3m LED videowall on the store’s façade, a 3.5m x 2m LED videowall beside a cashpoint in the men’s section, a 7.5m x 2m LED videowall by the cashpoint in the children’s section and the children’s cinema screen is made up of LED tiles (2m x 3m). LED throughout is by Unilumin, “We told the client what pixel pitch they needed, how the installation process would work, what needed to be designed, all the technical elements.  We decided on 3.9mm as the pixel pitch because of the viewing distances in the store,” says Hakim.  The original plan was to use 2.5mm tiles says Hakim, “but the budget was going to be too high, so we eventually chose 3.9mm.” To make the final decision on the LED it was installed in a location in New York and the decision was made by the client to go for 3.9mm in this store.

LCD panels are a mix of giant 98-in NEC 4K displays and 43-in NEC screens. Why did DeLite choose those particular products? “H&M liked the brands we suggested, and the price we could deliver them for,” says Hakim.  One NEC 98-in LED UHD display is by the young fashion fitting room on the ground floor, and another is by the Click and Collect section on the first floor.  Three 43-in NEC LCD displays help decorate the indoor garden on the ground floor.  B-Tech brackets help keep the videowalls and LCD panels in place, and Novastar MCTRL300 LED controllers help make sure the videowall content looks as it should. Digital signage throughout the store is run through a Stratacache CMS and players, which provided one of the most difficult aspects of this installation says Hakim.  “One challenge was creating and fine-tuning the Stratacache configuration. Our team was involved in building the complete configuration.  All content is sent by H&M in Sweden and run through a scheduler in the Stratacache system.” Audio throughout is provided by Bose ceiling speakers, a product it has used successfully before on previous installs says Hakim.

Power proved to be the most difficult issue in this installation. “It’s the worlds biggest H&M, so there are a lot of lights and LEDs,” says Hakim. “On top of that, because it’s an old store, we have to draw more power from the walls for our LEDs. We designed the whole electrical system, and installed a completely separate power distribution boards for the LED screens.  When you load LED the power is extremely high, and it gradually comes down.  But at the start it is really stretched,” says Hakim.  The difficulty with power including the frightening sight of all of the power going out (temporarily) the night before the store opened. “Another difficult part was coordinating where everything was going in the store prior to the construction, the cabling etc so it was all completely ready at time of installation. It was very difficult to take care of the screens whilst the construction was going on.”

The Click and Collect lounge is where the store embraces omnichannel, by allowing customers to shop at from inside the store.  “I worked with H&M’s IT department, whereby we used the back-end dashboard of the H&M kiosk portal, which publishes to small monitors where the goods are dispatched to,” says Ammar Lashkari, chairman and managing director, 2point0 Concepts. In the Click and Collect lounge, shoppers can view the product catalogue on iPads, and get the goods there and then, or order online and collect in-store.

The store opened in Mid-September, after a gruelling installation process, “The timeline was incredible, we needed to complete 8,000sq m in three months.  Our team and our contractors were working 24/7 to get it done,” says Hakim.

So why does this H&M differ in so many ways from other ones around the world? “Here we have to show luxury, shoppers in Kuwait have a different mentality to shoppers in Dubai or Saudi Arabia.  In Kuwait they like to shop in a high cultural environment, it has to look posh, they like to spend money on shopping and they have a lot of shopping power,” adds Hakim.

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