‘It’s not about products anymore – it’s about the experience’
So said Jon Tollit, principal and retail practice leader at Gensler at a conference investigating rapidly changing trends in London’s retail offer at the NLA last week. Tollit was among a number of speakers exploring how retail is reinventing itself, with ‘being in it and being part of it’ becoming a major trend begun by retailers like Apple, but continued with things like pop-up retail at transport hubs, Levi’s in-store events and even sewing clubs as at Liberty’s. ‘Spaces are multi-functional and multi-tasking, so retailers should have a start-up mentality’, said Tollit. ‘It’s about the here and now – pop-ups and the testing of ideas are the new reality.’
Fitch’s senior insights analyst Jim Whyte said one example of this new form of retailing is epitomised by the Cronut – a recent invention that is part croissant, part doughnut – which was launched in New York and through word of mouth and social media has become a sensation. People are now paying $100 for a Cronut to avoid the huge queues. ‘We live in a world of digital ubiquity, where everything is available online’, said Whyte. ‘But the Cronut illustrates that people also crave the social event, the live experience, or the scarce or unique experience.’ Stores were becoming more places where customers ‘explore’ and ‘dream’, he added, with retailers like Burberry merging the physical and digital experience with staff having iPads and live events in store shown online. ‘We’re seeing an increasing amount of stores becoming brand playgrounds’, said Whyte.
London is the international leader in retail space, said CBRE senior director Kevin McCauley, and is the location of choice for international brands over Dubai in second place, with Paris and Moscow behind. With London’s shift eastward, growth nodes will likely be around places like Canary Wharf, City, and King’s Cross. Fellow director Alan Spencer added that although there had been ‘dramatic’ rental growth even before Crossrail’s likely positive impact, with a move towards luxury there is still ‘headroom’ in that market.
The conference also heard from Capital and Counties’ Beverley Churchill on Covent Garden’s continued regeneration with a focus on luxury but also in using spaces ‘to entertain people’, Child Graddon Lewis’ Gillian Green on new research and the importance of mixed use and Hackney’s head of regeneration delivery Andrew Sissons on measures to improve retail in the area. ‘It’s an unprecedented time for growth in Hackney’, he said.
David Taylor, New London Quarterly