Where next for destination retail?
In the face of challenges from online, changing consumer lifestyles and new concerns for wellbeing and sustainability, what can Shopping Centres do to become fresh again?
Their formats and the experiences they offered hadn’t changed for years. They risk becoming retail wastelands as the ecommerce revolution took over their territory and raison d’etre.
eCommerce and Direct to Consumer brands which offered innovative and experiential reasons and ways to engage, whether physically or digitally through connected stores which blurred the line between shopping and experience, commerce and education, were capturing consumers’ hearts and wallets, whilst the typical Shopping Centre mainstay brands languished.
COVID has changed the retail landscape and our entire perception of the what, why and how we should shop and even whether we go out. It has shifted our sense of purpose and priorities, but rather than being the nail in the coffin for the traditional Shopping Centre, it represents a huge opportunity for these institutions to reposition and rethink their role and the way they work. Whilst in recent years store closures outpaced openings, in 2021 the opposite has been true.
People still want to shop in public. So here are three ways that future Shopping Centres could be better than they were before.
These centres need to become a new type of destination for experiences and places where we can truly feel what brands want us to feel and to understand their purpose and offering.
What if we could experience, products and brands in richer sensorial contexts? A new kind of try before you buy enabled by environments that digitally, physically and experientially mimicked those where we would use the products in reality — the wild, the home, a shared workspace.
Rather than being identikit units filled with products stacked on shelves, the structure of Shopping Centres could be designed to encourage the use of space that provides context and richness. These sensorially rich spaces would not only encourage purchase by providing a sense of real-world use, but also re-engagement. They would be fun, fresh and useful, places you would want to re-visit to see and feel what’s new.
The experiential purpose of a Shopping Centre could be taken further, to bring out a sense of community. People could be drawn together around grass roots initiatives, supporting each other, engaging with people with shared values, interests or those who need help. From shoppers to participants and citizens.
How could this look if the whole Shopping Centre experience was digitally connected? From the layout of the space, to the experiences offered and the people interacting with it, our connection to the Shopping Centre could be seamlessly driven digitally, so that we are constantly in touch with the brands, services and people who contribute to it.
This could take the concept of the Shopping Centre from a location of stuff to a destination for experiences and interactions.
To support these new types of experiences and interactions the use of space needs to be designed to adapt and flex quickly.
What would new retail developments look like if we can build them as open, flexible, theatrical spaces that could change to meet fast changing needs?
Reconfigurable systems could be integrated into the destination so that the layout and use of the space could be reorganised to respond and reflect the changing products, services and experiences that people want and enjoy. This will bring out the best of brands, by providing them with a framework upon which to experiment and innovate, whilst enticing consumers through the pull of newness and fun.
This shifting and shiftable space could be articulated to consumers and visitors through digital interfaces and a new language of location layout expression, so that people find the right balance of exploration and discovery inside the Shopping Centre.
There will be challenges to retrofitting existing developments, but the investment and effort will be worthwhile and will ensure the continued relevance of existing locations.
To reflect the new sense of purpose and concern for the environment that we increasingly share, retail developments need to become beacons of sustainability.
What if retail developments became more closed loop and circular, through energy use, food production, waste handling, or re-using raw materials and so on? What would it be like if they contributed or grew the food that was eaten there or used some of the space to create products that were micro-fabricated there? What if the Shopping Centre had the facilities to repair, to update and repurpose, not to only sell newness?
Using their popularity and scale to inform through delight, bringing people back under their roofs to experience new things in new ways, and interact with progressive brands and form new communities, Shopping Centres can become more resilient, multi-purpose destinations that will entice visitors and encourage them to be not only shoppers but participants in an experience that educates, innovates and connects us all more sustainably.
Author: Hugo Jamson, Creative Director at NewTerritory