Not everything has to go: Saving resources in shopfitting

6 min.

Short life spans in shopfitting are no longer in keeping with the times. Claudia Horbert from the EHI Retail Institute describes the current developments in flexible, sustainable and low-cost shop design for PLEXIGLAS® Impulse.

© iStock / fiphoto


billion euros

were invested in shopfitting by retail companies in Germany in 2019.

In stationary retail there are two demands that would initially appear very difficult to reconcile. On the one hand is the desire to provide customers with surprising new worlds of experience filled with surprises in order to fight off the stiff competition from online retail. “Shops have to move away from a pure point of sale concept to one more in line with a point of experience. The investment requirement for a new business has therefore increased across all sectors,” states the Laden-Monitor 2020 from EHI, a benchmarking study on KPIs and trends in the retail sector, published by the EHI Retail Institute in time for the EuroShop trade fair.

And on the other hand, the economic and ecological goal of saving both costs and resources. So how do these two aspects fit together? The shopfitting sector is reacting with flexible and modular furnishings and the use of sustainable and recyclable materials.

Extended renovation cycles for shopfittings

Compared to a few years ago, shopfittings are replaced less often today. Between 2013 and 2019, the average cycle duration for complete renovations – including floors and walls – has increased from 8.6 to 9.6 years in the food sector and from 7.2 to 8.7 years in the non-food sector. This data is also corroborated in the Laden-Monitor 2020, while this tendency is also visible in the fast-moving fashion retail sector.

“The current trend is one that moves away from comprehensive renovations and toward partial conversions and smaller refresher solutions with highly flexible furnishing modules and the ability to quickly change promotional areas. For example: Two thirds of the shopfitting furnishings are fixed, while the remaining third can be quickly and easily changed,” says Claudia Horbert, Head of the Store Planning + Shopfitting research area at the EHI Retail Institute in Cologne.

The primary driving force here is not sustainability, however, but costs. “The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the financial pressure on the retail sector. However, if owners and shopfitters pay greater attention to using durable, robust and multifunctional materials during the planning phase, this will naturally have a positive effect on sustainability.” In an interview with PLEXIGLAS® Impulse, the expert describes four current approaches which save costs and resources in shopfitting.

© EHI Retail Institute

Claudia Horbert
is head of the Store Planning + Shopfitting research sector at the EHI Retail Institute in Cologne, a scientific institute for retail. She is also the author of the EHI Laden-Monitor and the EHI guideline “Nachhaltigkeit im Ladenbau” (Sustainability in shopfitting).

Robust, durable and easy to recondition

PLEXIGLAS® brand acrylic glass is a highly sought-after material for shopfitting, as it has the following properties:

Approach 1: Resell or recondition

In the past, there was a flourishing market for the secondary use of stock. “Many products went to Eastern Europe. However, these countries no longer want the discarded materials from the West,” says Horbert. This may be a reason for the increased willingness over the past 10 years to recondition and reuse shopfittings, such as when moving locations.

Figures from the EHI guideline: “Nachhaltigkeit im Ladenbau” for comparison: In 2010, only 34 percent of the surveyed retail companies stated that they recondition their shopfittings; just three years later, this figure increased to almost 59 percent. The catch? “Shop owners complain that disposal is often cheaper and quicker than it is to store, recondition and transport them,” says the retail researcher. “Things become more interesting following amortization, if the shopfittings can be used beyond the renovation cycles.”

Approach 2: Sustainable and durable materials

While the focus may primarily be on saving costs, sustainability in shopfitting is also becoming increasingly important, not least as shop owners can display their eco credentials – a valuable image factor among a clientele with a growing awareness for environmental and climate protection. In 2010, almost half of all retail companies were convinced that sustainable shopfitting in a standardized network of branches would be difficult to implement; just three years later, this figure dropped to every fifth company.

Between 2010 and 2019, the share of reusable and recyclable materials in shopfitting grew from around 23 percent to 43 percent.

As one of the most sustainable materials, wood is currently a status symbol for a “green lifestyle”, such as in shops for high-quality fashion, organic food or wine. Shopfitters are paying more attention to the source and are using FSC certified wood.

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PLEXIGLAS® proTerra for sustainable shopfitting

PLEXIGLAS® proTerra, a new variant of the original from POLYVANTIS, contains around 90 percent reprocessed PLEXIGLAS® acrylic glass – and impresses with the proven brand quality. The sheet material with its glossy surface is available in black and colorless and is ideal for counter fronts, displays and shelves, wall claddings or modular elements, for example. As is the case for other types of PLEXIGLAS® acrylic glass, scratches can easily be polished out.


However, according to the survey for the Laden-Monitor 2020, only 29 percent of the surveyed retailers stated that they use furnishings made from natural materials and renewable raw materials such as wood. In 2016, this figure was 48 percent. The trend is limited by costs, in particular currently in the segments which are threatened with closing down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wood is currently a scarce commodity around the world and the prices continue to rise, a factor that also affects steel. This material was rejected for a long time due to the high CO2 emissions generated in its production.

However, its durability has resulted in an increase in popularity, as confirmed by the most recent EHI Laden-Monitor. “There are very few alternatives that are as durable as steel shelves. They are robust, solid and can withstand heavy loads – and you can basically use them forever,” says Horbert. “Fresh life can be breathed into steel shelves by installing new back panels or new shelves.”

Durability is an important factor for ground shelves, as these have to meet high demands. As the shelves are subjected to particular strain and wear quickly, it is sensible to select a material that can be reconditioned when it has been scratched, for example.

There are also innovative and sustainable solutions for shelves or counter and wall claddings made from plastic components, including high-quality and durable plastics with a high share of recycled material.

Elegantly saving resources

Its high-quality appearance means PLEXIGLAS® proTerra is well-suited for counter and wall claddings. As it comprises around 90 percent of reused acrylic glass, it saves resources in shopfitting.

© iStock / clu

Sustainable? Certainly!

PLEXIGLAS® proTerra is also available in transparent sheets, making it well-suited for goods displays.

© iStock/TeerasanP

Flexible in use

Like all other PLEXIGLAS® variants, PLEXIGLAS® proTerra is light and robust, easy to process and can be used in many different applications.

© iStock/onurdongel

Diversity in shopfitting:

PLEXIGLAS® brand acrylic glass is ideal for creating the freedom of design required for modular shopfittings.

You can find some application examples here.

Approach 3: Flexible and modular concepts

While heavy steel shelves are suitable for DIY stores, for example, they are less suited for shops which require flexible and modular shopfittings. This requirement has existed for years, but a new dynamic has joined the fray, says Horbert.

As such, shop owners are testing new concepts of using their spaces in a flexible manner; during the day, the space is used to display goods, while in the evening, the shop welcomes people to customer events, for example. Sales areas should therefore be planned in such a fashion that they can be redesigned with as little effort as possible when needed. A requirement here is that the stock can quickly and easily be moved around. The shopfitting sector is reacting to these needs with lightweight materials and movable modules that can be redesigned, dyed differently or put together to form a new combination, says the expert.

© Sorbis/

Approach 4: Using illumination effectively

In addition to the other approaches, shop owners could use light to create variation in a very effective manner. “Even small changes to the central area of the shop – such as varying the lighting, using highly flexible modules and moving the goods more often – creates the impression among customers that the area is constantly in motion,” explains Horbert. Fashion shops could use these options to adapt their shopfittings to the seasonal changes with very little material use, for example.

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