In an ever-changing environment, shopping centres are evolving fast to cater to the demands of both retailers and customers.
Shopping patterns that have long been considered the norm are now being turned upside down as experiential retail becomes a priority for shoppers and occupiers look to deliver this in new and innovative ways.
As a result, the store is becoming a brand showcase, and this means landlords need to offer the right units in the right locations for the right brands.
For fashion retailers, there is a clear trend. Across the portfolio, we’ve seen brands seek out larger, flagship stores that allow them to implement a creative and engaging fit out.
These stores incorporate digital technology, engaging displays, expert customer service and efficient stock management, all of which delivers an in-store experience that promotes brand loyalty and engages shoppers.
In the past year alone, Zara, JD Sports, Next and Oliver Bonas have all chosen to upsize stores in our portfolio of leading regional destinations, and have invested heavily to ensure that they deliver a best in class brand experience.
From a practical perspective, the larger space also enables fashion retailers to hold a greater amount of stock, which, as click and collect continues to grow in popularity, is very important.
With prime shopping centres ideally located to cater to click and collect customers, stores are becoming mini distribution centres with brands looking for ways to make the user journey easier and more convenient.
But flagships are by no means the only trend reshaping retail.
At the other end of the scale, retail sub-sectors which have historically shunned prime shopping centre space in favour of big-box out of town showrooms are now re-imagining their models.
The car industry, for example, is accelerating its shift into a small-scale, innovative format.
Within our portfolio, Volvo recently unveiled its latest model in Ireland in a unit at Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin, and Volkswagen took its first shopping centre store in Bullring, Birmingham.
The advancement of digital technology has enabled these retailers to deliver an engaging brand experience with much smaller footprints than previously imagined.
Volkswagen has three models on display at any one time in its Bullring store, but regularly refreshes these.
Whilst that might seem like a small selection, the brand has a digital wall which spans the length of the unit and invites visitors to explore further models, as well as scale models with 360 degree footage and detail on key features.
Added to that, Volkswagen offers test drives from the centre’s car park, conveniently located underneath the store itself.
The model allows Volkswagen to access a new and different customer base through consistently high footfall and a largely affluent customer base in what has become the UK’s second city.
And finally, in a further twist on the traditional model, department stores are also experimenting with smaller, pop-up stores to complement their existing estates.
John Lewis, which has a flagship store in Victoria Leeds, recently opened a standalone Smart Home store in the nearby arcades, which is modelled on its Oxford Street department Smart Home department and showcases smart technology in a connected environment.
The store acts as a marketing tool, increasing interest and promoting the brand name.
These examples demonstrate that size isn’t everything when it comes to experiential retail – brands are looking for a range of solutions to incorporate digital technology and showcase their products in an engaging and compelling environment.
In response, landlords must be flexible, adapting to accommodate occupiers at both the larger and smaller scale of physical retail.
Mark Bourgeois is managing director UK and Ireland at Hammerson