Transforming the future of retail
The rapid pace of change currently reshaping retail has been accelerated by the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, with the transformation expected to continue well beyond the end of the pandemic. Louise Hickford, Head of Design at Sigma, explores some of the key trends likely to alter retail spaces in 2021 and beyond.
2020 proved to be a truly radical year for a sector already faced with somewhat of a shift in paradigm. For many retail brands it served to justify the accelerated move to digital platforms and ecommerce strategies. While for others it saw a dramatic shift in tactics as they seek to resonate with consumers who themselves have experienced a seismic shift in behaviours and attitudes.
Unquestionably the economics of running high street stores has grown increasingly difficult, but it is not to say bricks and mortar stores will not succeed in 2021 and beyond. Rather, transformational programmes that support omnichannel shopper journeys, genuine human connections, exceptional customer experiences and drive purchasing opportunities – possibly within a smaller physical footprint – will become ever more critical to ensuring success.
It is predicted the post-Covid market landscape will bring fewer and arguably far better stores, (Raconteur Future of Retail Report, 2020) , resulting in progressive retailers placing an emphasis on delivering an enhanced experience, focused on driving consumer interaction and engagement, rather than simply driving sales.
Hybrid working models, reduced business travel, commercial buildings at lower occupancy levels, cautious discretionary spending, will all lead to a novel and much-vaunted notion of “retail theatre”, according to renowned futurist Dr Richard Hames.
Gone will be the days of the conventional retail model. Stores that simply hang row, upon row, of clothes on hangers alongside basic changing rooms and a mirror, or display products side by side on standard shelving, are likely to slowly disappear. Instead we will see the continued evolution of large-format shopping centres and concept stores, offering a richer and wider range of experiences by blending retail, office and living with sensory experiences such as music and dining, all within a single space.
We have already seen some exemplary instances of brands investing further to drive new experiences, as they seek to intrinsically balance online and offline activities, and deliver innovative creative concepts that maximise the available space.
Travel firms, for example, are launching stores to counter competition from online digital disruptors by offering experiences that use sensory elements to create an immersive shopping environment, allowing shoppers to get in the holiday mood before leaving the shop.
The result includes, amongst other innovations, a mock-up of an aeroplane cockpit complete with economy and upper class seats, and a virtual reality (VR) installation to take visitors on a ‘rollercoaster’ of global destinations.
It is an approach that is now being more widely adopted across the retail landscape, with one well-known brand launching a virtual beauty room to enable shoppers to receive in-store customer service from the comfort of their own home. While a renowned supermarket, known to be a staunch bricks and mortar advocate, provides customers with breakfast, lunch or evening meals made-to-order while they shop for groceries.
As retail brands carefully assess their physical portfolios in terms of location, rent and profitability, while even considering closure, dynamic structures that are able to seamlessly shift to accommodate changing consumer attitudes and behaviours will become the norm.
Whether this takes the shape of multi-occupancy and multi-purpose facilities, such as John Lewis’ plan to convert as much as 302,000 square feet of its 678,700 square foot flagship London store on Oxford Street into flexible retail space – a conversion that will result in nearly 50% of the iconic structure becoming office space – or contactless collection points such as those introduced by Ikea for online or digital customers, or even multi-floor experience-led store concepts similar to Lush’s, only time will tell.
Whatever the future holds, working with a knowledgeable primary contractor like Sigma, with over 20 years’ experience of transforming commercial spaces, retail brands can seamlessly and cost-effectively deploy complex evolutionary programmes across entire estates – while reducing the spread of viruses at the same time.
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