What is shopping? According to online dictionary Merriam-Webster, it is “to visit places where goods are sold in order to look at and buy things”.

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I’d argue this definition needs a refresh. Today, we can “shop” by simply pressing an Amazon Dash button in our kitchen or asking Alexa to add it to our list.

So this raises another question: what is a shop?

In an increasingly digital world, the role of the physical shop is rapidly moving from transactional to experiential.

“With Amazon stocking 250 million products, the idea of a bricks-and-mortar retailer offering ‘everything under one roof’ becomes laughable”

Retailers must reinvent the physical space, capitalising on the leisure element of shopping while injecting a greater sense of community and services in their offering.

In other words, simply selling stuff is no longer enough.

As spending shifts online and towards smaller formats, it’s the department stores and superstores that have the most work cut out for them.

With Amazon stocking 250 million products, the idea of a bricks-and-mortar retailer offering ‘everything under one roof’ becomes laughable.

Instead, these larger store formats must reposition themselves as genuine destinations, not only from the point of view of making better use of excess space, but also to redefine the broader purpose of the physical store.

It must become a place to discover, eat, work, play and collect.

Making space work

While most of those words should come as no surprise to anyone in retail, the “work” element might raise a few eyebrows.

Today, we heard that John Lewis is exploring the possibility of creating co-working or serviced office space in some of its stores.

“Co-working space is a natural extension of services typically found in today’s department stores – cafes and free Wi-Fi”

It is not the first retailer to do so. Carrefour’s Urban Life supermarkets in Milan and a handful of Staples’ US stores now offer shared office workspace.

Meanwhile, start-ups such as New York City-based Spacious or Sweden’s Hoffice are further enabling the growing mobile workforce.

Co-working space is a natural extension of services typically found in today’s department stores – cafes and free Wi-Fi.

What’s more, it could be a new opportunity to reward loyalty.

While there are obvious incentives to open this up to all customers, I can also envisage a designated space for loyalty card holders, who can set up their laptops and have access to free tea and coffee.

It would increase dwell time, affinity for the brand and, just as is the case when collecting an online order, there is a very good chance of additional spend once in store.

  • Natalie Berg is retail insights director at Planet Retail