Matt Mason: What the future of retail space could look like in the UK

Pozzoni senior associate, Matt Mason considers what the future of retail space could look like in the UK.

There’s no doubt that the retail landscape has changed dramatically over recent years. The rise of online shopping, coupled with city centres and out-of-town schemes upping their offering, means many traditional high streets and smaller developments have struggled. Of course, this isn’t news to anyone but what does the future of retail look like and how can design play a role in its success?

I recently attended an event with Place North West where some of the region’s leading experts discussed the UK’s rapidly evolving retail landscape. So, what will successful retail developments of the future look like?

Mix it up

There’s a growing trend for retail developments to incorporate a mixed-use approach and for any shopping centre of any scale to be successful in today’s market, it must combine a diverse mix of retail, leisure and even residential accommodation to thrive. A strong F&B (food and beverage) offering will help make a shopping destination more attractive and we’re now even seeing a lot more retailers looking in to joint ventures and bringing a food offering in to store. Combining that offer with leisure activities such as crazy golf, ping pong and small cinemas also adds to the overall experience.

But don’t just think about the actual internal space of the development. Allowing for a public realm where shoppers can grab a bite to eat when the sun’s out, or where events could be held, helps to create more of an atmosphere and somewhere that people want to be a part of. It’s all about increasing dwell time. But having the option for future adaptations is key and that’s where planning comes in.

Embrace flexibility

As high street retail and leisure offers continue to evolve and try to embrace the mixed-use approach, councils need to be flexible and embrace planning changes from A1 to A3 to make sure our small towns don’t get left behind. If they’re to try and compete with the bigger out of town developments and city centre high streets then they need to be able to accommodate the mix of restaurants and leisure facilities such as gyms and cinemas to increase dwell time. Making that a quicker and easier process can only be a good thing all round.

However, it’s not just shopping centre owners that must invest and embrace change, retailers need to too, so that they can better the customer experience and increase trade. The recent success of Bolton’s Market Place demonstrates that investment works.

Design for experience

Many shoppers today mix shopping on the high street with browsing and shopping online but interestingly, 80% of UK retail trade is still done in store. However, when people do go in to a store, as mentioned earlier, they’re looking for an experience and of course, service plays a big role here. But it’s also where architects, landscape architects and interior designers can use their skills to help shoppers easily navigate their way to individual stores as well as around the wider development. Ultimately, they’re looking for an enjoyable experience, where they can mix shopping with other leisure activities – something they simply can’t achieve by clicking ‘add to basket’ and ‘check out’.

Power to the independents

Another key thing to consider is the importance of independents and offering an eclectic mix of stores. In the Manchester and Liverpool market in particular, there is currently a strong movement towards supporting small independent businesses and as planners and designers, we need to ensure that there is space to accommodate them. Attracting the national and global retailers will still be important, but independents offer that diversity and something special that makes a place unique and makes shoppers come back time and again. It doesn’t even need to be a permanent retail space. Just having the option to accommodate pop-ups can be a great asset to a retail development, even if it is simply outdoor space where mobile street food vendors could pull-up and offer something new to the area.

September 13th — 2017