What will the future hold for the European commercial retail landscape?

Lately, many news-channels and media have echoed the idea that brick and mortar shopping is being defeated by its digital counterpart. For instance, Amazon accounts for £4 in every £100 spent in the UK and as a result of the pandemic; and experts forecast over a 30% market share for online shopping. Yet, retail remains the single largest private sector employer in the UK, with one in 10 people working in retail. So, what can be expected in the near future?

Evidently, the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact in the sector, following lock-downs, global uncertainty, economic crisis and changes in regular spending patterns. Convenience, safety and longer work schedules have certainly benefited online sales, which were gradually gaining market share, and found a sudden expansion. Alan Hawkins, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), states that “The consumer is king and if they want to buy online, then that is their call. But from our observations consumers still want the experience and level of service found when shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store.” As a result, the end of lockdown will see huge numbers visiting retail outlets again.

“Consumers still want the experience and level of service found when shopping in a bricks-and-mortar store”

Nowadays, considering the UK as an example that could actually be expanded to all European countries, each location has its own particular dynamics, depending on the hierarchy of the shopping centers and retail parks. Britain’s retail landscape is dominated by supermarkets, followed by department stores and technology retailers. Grocery retailers are currently experiencing growth in an inflationary and hostile environment.

Chris Geaves, CEO of the Sovereign Centros group, illustrates that the development of shopping centers takes years, so they become irreplaceable stock. “They will be highly in demand in the future from long term investors when this period of turbulence settles down,” this expert forecasts. One of the main reasons behind this is that these huge projects have a bidirectional relationship with the place where they belong. They always need an anchor, a supermarket or a department store, to attract the other units, while the location needs a department store to set the tone to drive rents.

“Shopping centers will be highly in demand in the future from long term investors”

The pandemic has definitely brought in changes that may be here to stay: according to a member of the Executive Committee of the Spanish Association of Shopping Centres and Retail Parks (AECC), shopping centers should be based on public space, since people now do not wish to feel trapped in a closed space. Instead, these spaces should offer a safe space, where well-being and healthcare are huge selling points, and open-air options will be the most valuable. In addition, ordinary services such as dry-cleaning, shoe repair services, gyms and coworking spaces will also be relevant.

Out-of-town powerhouses will operate as town centers in terms of accessibility, transport options and parking. They also have the land to expand and the opportunity to inject different additions to make them more attractive. Local centers, anchored with a supermarket, will survive because of their convenience. Shopping centers will become more varied with the introduction of residential, health, community, business options. In short, the stores of the future will provide experiences, rather than simply focus on selling stock.

All in all, the shopping centers of the future will include new leisure concepts, an attractive environment to allure new customers, and an expanded offer including healthcare options, innovative food and drinks sectors, and daily services normally found in local shops. E-commerce is not a threat at all, it should become a powerful tool that will engage with traditional yet, evolved shops.

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