Retail’s renaissance proves clicks haven’t won over bricks

Architecture

It was only a few short years ago when consensus seemed to be that traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailing was under permanent threat from ‘click based’ online retail. Like predictions of the paperless office, this bit of fortune telling proved to be a little wide of the mark.

At PDT, we’re seeing a strong revival of interest in retail property as an asset. While there has been a noticeable shift in retail expenditure from things like fashion to food, the potential of a retail centre to continue to capture a high ‘share of wallet’ from its catchment demographic is far from dead or endangered, it has simply evolved and adapted. For many older style centres, this presents an opportunity to ‘re-tune’ to modern consumers’ preferences and market opportunity. 

So what are the sorts of questions we ask when briefed to think about the full potential of an older style centre which appears to have more potential? 

These are some of them:

Store formats. Many retailers have changed their preferred store format, layouts and sizes in response to the changing consumer economy. Fashion and newsagencies now tend to prefer much smaller tenancies. Some majors and mini-majors prefer larger. Is the centre’s store format currently competitive compared with what leading centres are offering retail tenants?

Retail mix. As with store formats and sizes, overall centre mix is a fluid environment. As leases approach expiry, are there

opportunities to tweak the centre mix to take optimum advantage of new retail opportunities and consumer trends?

Interiors. Appealing aesthetics is only one part of the formula for successful retail. Finishes and materials should be chosen also for their enduring appeal, their ability to resist wear, and for their whole of life value. Shopping centres are high traffic environments where robustness of materials needs to marry with highly appealing design.

Entertainment. It’s the new black in retail and finding the right formula where entertainment can be integrated into a centre’s offer does not follow any precise rules. It can occur externally or be integrated internally but needs site-specific areas that are flexible and can adapt to a centre’s specific program of events.  Not unlike the retail offer, the entertainment offer reflects the demographic. 

Staging. If a centre is being considered for expansion in addition to refurbishment, what are the staging considerations around key tenant requirements and consumers? Centres need to continue trading and as far as possible you don’t want an expansion or refurbishment project to turn consumers away during the transformation. 

Lighting. The quality and standard of lighting, including natural light, can have a major bearing on the appeal of a centre. In addition, the provision of outdoor centre lighting, and lighting of carpark areas, can have a major bearing on the comfort level of safety conscious consumers.

Community. The term ‘the third place’ is commonly used to reflect shopping centres’ roles as places to meet and socialise outside of work and home. To what extent is this potential for a centre to be a community hub fully explored in the design? Connectivity to the external environment is another (generally underutilised) dimension which provides possible avenues for community engagement. Connection with external streetscapes and providing breakout space for centre management events helps activate centres and provide a point of difference.

Sustainability,. Maintaining control of outgoings through energy efficient lighting and air-conditioning can be enhanced by increasing natural light and ventilation where possible. These ESD principles are very much aimed at bottom line improvement. What other sustainable measures should be considered to ensure future resilience?

Landscapes. The days of some hardy Queens Palms growing in concrete bordered garden beds covered in a sparse layer of bark are gone. Our landscape designers are acutely aware of the importance that low maintenance landscapes can create in terms of a positive impression and enjoyable environment for consumers.

Access, signage and way finding. Convenience and ease of doing business is very much our aim when working on elements like centre access, car park flows, pedestrians flows, directional signage and way finding devices. This has become a much more sophisticated field in recent years and many centres could benefit from a more efficient and consumer friendly approach. 

Competition. What’s the competition doing in the competitive trade area? Has it captured certain market sectors but left others ripe for exploration? What are the lessons from any recent innovation within the centre’s catchment? How do these apply? Are you moving forward or by merely standing still actually going backward?

This is far from an exhaustive list. The magnitude of change in shopping centres and retailing even in the last ten years has been nothing short of momentous, and the impact of online has been (and will continue to be) a case of rapid evolution. 

The extent of responses to this can’t be easily summed up in a few short paragraphs but in our experience, the potential for shopping centres to remain focal points in the lives of their communities is a strong as ever, potentially more so, provided they’re designed and presented in line with contemporary expectations and industry best practice.

For further information contact David Evans, PDT  Architects: davidevans@pdt.com.au

David Evans 12th Mar 2015

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