Opinion.

Re-imagining the shopping centres of the future

29/04/2021

There have recently been many articles in the press about the future of shopping and shopping centres; how about a go-kart track in an old department store or a live music venue in a supermarket? The list of suggestions has been limited only by imagination but it has always made me think of the time I spent in Tokyo and the Thunder Dolphin roller coaster which passes over and through a shopping centre. I have seen shopping centres called “consumer engagement centres” and that has recently struck a chord with me.

We have all adapted very quickly to online shopping. We now shop for clothes, food, cars, furniture online without a second thought but at some point I have realised that I miss the physical retail experience; sitting on a potential new sofa, picking the material for a new suit, none of this can be quite replicated online but this is just my experience. For some people retail was a recreational activity, spending the weekend online is somewhat different to spending the day at the shopping centre with friends and family. Each of us have our own personal reasons for shopping and our expectations of what we want from it, it is not only about necessity.

I read a great piece by management consultants Kearney in respect of what they consider to be the future of shopping centres. They foresee four types of shopping centres:

Destination Centres – These are shopping centres that have something all the others do not have; a USP that makes them stand out amongst the crowd and makes you want to go. It also includes shopping centres with the flagship stores of major brands, a place where you can go to discover the latest products, experience the latest technology, understand the products’ origins and applications before making a decision and buying on-line. As Kearney phrase it, “discovery, education and experience” are key to this offering.

Innovation Centres – This is the next level of targeted advertising. Shopping centre owners will monitor shoppers as they move from space to space via the GPS on their phones (who does not sign up to free wi-fi?) and provide retailers with real-time feedback on such matters as dwell time and where that dwell time was. As a consumer, your experience will be tailored by an algorithm and every time you go, it will build a more detailed picture of who you are, your average spend and your likes and dislikes, much as on-line retailers do and target marketing and offers accordingly.

Retaildential Centres – “Retaildential” spaces are highly curated “life-stage centres” based around demographic-specific and appropriate retail, restaurants, entertainment, and services. In Japan, developers such as Aeon Co. are already redesigning their centres to address the needs of the ageing population; senior housing could be augmented by medical services, pharmacies, exercise facilities, lawyers specialising in age-specific law, accountants specialising in estate planning, and community rooms.

Value Centres – Values centres are focused on ideas, such as lifestyle choices and all retailers could provide an experience that ties into this. Take the Bike Shed in Shoreditch, London which provides food and beverages, curated retail, haircuts and tattoos for the discerning and aspiring motorcyclists.  But can it also be at a broader and more local level? Perhaps a local shopping centre where customers can purchase locally produced or grown products or shopping centres that are located sufficiently convenient that you can “pop” to the shopping centre on the way home. Maybe the value centre will be the new local high street; we choose to shop locally to support the local community.

I am sure that there is no single answer to re-imagining shopping centres but one thing I can be sure of is that we will need dog sitting facilities for the lockdown pups.

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