Covid-19 is ushering in a new era of consumer behaviour as the rapid growth in e-commerce adds £5.3bn to UK e-commerce sales in 2020. And while the full impact on the retail landscape is yet to be seen, footfall is slowly recovering and may drive a new revolution in retail premises.
The new normal shopping centre
What does seem clear is that conventional bricks and mortar spaces are failing fast, bringing to the fore the idea of transformation in the way we engage with the places where we buy things.
In 2018 when Cirque de Soleil announced a family entertainment concept in a Toronto shopping mall, it was a foretaste of the potential future for our shopping centres. No longer are we passive consumers simply buying stuff. Now we demand to be engaged and retailers are keen to engage us beyond the fundamentals of a transaction.
New retail spaces like One Eastside, Birmingham show the importance of mixed spaces where retail sits cheek by jowl with entertainment and residential projects in the heart of the new transport hub at Curzon Street Station.
Online triumphs over offline - or does it?
The pandemic may have delivered on the adage 'software eats retail' but as the UK emerges from lockdown, retail sales have rebounded to 3% higher than pre-corona levels. And instead of online retailers killing the high street, international developers are starting to create scalable retail platforms to give pop-up offline space to e-commerce startups giving them a valuable physical showcase for their products.
The shopping centre may not be dead, but it is undergoing a radical reinvention spearheaded by developers like Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield whose innovative Destination 2028 vision foresees a revolutionary future for the mall.
In it, shopping centres become nothing short of hyper connected micro cities where online shopping grows and destination offline shopping endures. Where Amazon book shops sit side by side with familiar high street brands. Convenience retail and e-commerce will give customers the best of both worlds with AI walkways, scanners to personalise your visit and smart changing rooms that add an 'extra-perience layer' for the customer retail experience.
In this concept of classroom retail where customers and makers will meet, event areas will showcase interactive events, growing areas will allow shoppers to pick their own direct from the earth and a mixture of permanent and pop-up, business and leisure will truly animate the retail space.
In Europe this approach is being embodied in Belgium's new Mall of Europe while mixed retail and residential at Westfield Stratford City are blurring the lines between personal and public spaces and physical and online shopping.
Liverpool Waters is another mixed use project with a new 52,000 seat stadium for Everton FC at its heart. The 30 year regeneration plan will provide over 21.5m sq ft of residential, business and leisure space with plans for a cruise liner terminal and nearby hotel already taking shape.
In Trafford Park in Manchester, meanwhile, the Therme Group has confirmed a £250m leisure and retail park due to open in 2023 combining wellbeing, art, nature and technology in a tropical environment on the site of what is currently EventCity.