Back to the F**kture: Ibrahim Ibrahim

sector - media & technology
sector - youth
type - podcast
In the sixth episode of season two of our Back to the F**kture podcast, Martin Raymond speaks with futurist, retail strategist and designer, Ibrahim Ibrahim, to discuss the emotional membership consumers can have with brands, the future of blended retail spaces and connecting online and offline data to shape tomorrow’s businesses


The great thing about Ibrahim Ibrahim’s book, Future Ready Retail, is that it’s an easy read, but not a very comfortable one – especially if you’re a retailer.

As a book, it pretty much demolishes many of the preconceptions we have about how retailing works – wholesale, leasing, logistics, sales per square whatever – and explains why we now need to rethink the entire creaking eco-system at its heart.

And Ibrahim knows all about this, as he explains in my latest Back to the F**kture podcast. As managing director of Portland Design, a multi-disciplinary retail design practice based in London’s East End, he has worked with some of the best brands, malls and multi-sector stores globally. It isn’t just a case of living though the death of the dinosaurs, as he tells me before we begin our podcast, it’s more a symptom of Retail Darwinism, where the fittest aren’t just adapting, they’re becoming a different species, and for some of those old-school retailers, completely unrecognisable.

In this post-dinosaur era, he reminds me, ‘retail needs to shift from being a responsive business to being a predictive one if it is to survive at all’. These changes are structural, not cyclical, he adds, ‘a world of agile, resilient, flexible entities that needs to be obsessed with content, curation, blended offers and compelling experiences, which bricks-and-mortar leasing is a by-product of, not the other way around’.

His book, and his in-conversation with me are full of wise insights like this: forward-thinking retailers refer to their customers as audiences, and their merchandise and how they sell it as content rather than customers and products. Audience journeys are about missions to find, discover and inspire rather than searching, shopping and spending, while brands are no longer about buying, but about joining (the brand as membership club) where their audiences are fans, members and advocates rather than customers, clients or punters.

As he puts it: ‘Brand loyalty will no longer be driven by price, deals, discounts and points. These become commodities. People now want community, participation in a common interest, a shared set of values, a shared sense of belonging.’

Published by:

4 November 2022

Author: Martin Raymond and Ibrahim Ibrahim



But if the eco-system of trading needs to change, he observes, so too does our sense of bricks-and-mortar retail. At The Future Laboratory, we refer to the kind of store he’s speaking about as Hyperphysical Stores, while he calls them SWELCH stores, or blended spaces – ‘places that bring together shopping, working, entertainment, learning, culture and hospitality’ within the same realm of experience, activity and engagement.

This, he says, isn’t a place about points of sale, but ‘about points of connection that need to speak to us like a magazine, gallery, club, app, incubator, community and show rather than a transactional retailer’.

More trenchantly – apps and online shopping platforms aside – SWELCH offers will become the default touchpoints between brands and their audiences, which means that future-ready retailers need to see themselves as multimedia entertainers, and will need to recruit and plan accordingly for producers, creative directors, content managers, designers, writers, storytellers and choreographers rather than merchandisers, sales assistants, shelf-stackers and back-of-house people.

‘The past 30 years have squeezed the magic and margins out of retail, as we have tried to make it more about convenience, commodity, ubiquity, value and speed, while the next 30 years should be about bringing that magic, storytelling and wonder per square foot back.

You can find out more in this episode of Back to the F**kture, or in his book, Future Ready Retail: How to re-imagine the customer experience, rebuild retail spaces, and reignite our shopping malls and streets (KoganPage, 2022).

Tune in to the podcast on Audioboom, Spotify, Apple.