An exciting time to come for innovative retailers – David Halliday
While the Scottish retail sector has faced many challenges in recent times, the Covid-19 restrictions have put unprecedented pressure on physical stores – many of which were already struggling – as illustrated recent collapses and subsequent bailouts. These include online fashion retailer Asos which bought the Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands from the directors of the bankrupt Arcadia Group. Boohoo then stepped in to buy the remaining brands – Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton – to make them accessible only on the internet. It came just shortly after Boohoo bought the Debenhams brand. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, there is uncertainty over the future of the much-loved Jenners store. But it’s not all bad news for innovative retailers.
The pandemic led to shifts in consumer behavior in months that analysts had predicted would otherwise have taken more than a decade. But it will take time for many city centers to adjust to the “new normal”. If we look at Aberdeen, like many other cities, the closing of Debenhams stores potentially adds more empty space alongside old BHS stores that remain vacant years after branch closings. These stores covered large areas that retailers no longer seek. Invigorating and infilling these downtown plots can be a complex and time-consuming process, and many of them are likely to become mixed-use to include residential units and smaller businesses.
It is therefore vital to rethink the future of all commercial spaces for a post-pandemic world. It is becoming clear that an “omnichannel” approach to retail is necessary. Click and Collect took off during the pandemic. Once viewed by many retailers as the poor cousin of door-to-door delivery, it has filled a gap for consumers wanting to order online without having to wait days for delivery. Food retailers are leading the way with click and pickup facilities and other big names are adding this service.
The Click and Collect system also addresses the problem of retailers for whom the “last mile” – home delivery – is costly and logistically difficult. This had already prompted many retailers to form joint ventures in which exclusively online retailers, such as Amazon, team up with physical retail businesses. We expect this trend to grow, with supermarkets potentially developing large spaces to accommodate lockers where consumers can pick up products ordered from a range of brands.
We are seeing more and more retailers joining hotel brands to boost footfall after the pandemic. Having an inspiring hospitality offering that goes beyond the ubiquity of supermarket coffee is seen as a powerful strategy to attract customers and increase wait times. This means designing stores to maximize the added value of new brands and create attractive spaces.
One of the few benefits of the pandemic is that it has generally become easier to park in our local supermarket. If this trend continues, retailers will have more space as parking will not be in high demand. This could present opportunities to redevelop parking lots to accommodate retail, leisure and service subsidiaries, such as repair shops, barbers and beauty salons. Another option is to increase the number of charging stations for electric vehicles as they are used. Charging point providers are increasingly looking to monetize their investments, so supermarket charging points could use “loss leader” tactics of offering discounts and coupons to encourage footfall in their stores.
While not without challenges, this is by far the most exciting time we have seen for the retail industry as we design innovative solutions for a changing world.
David Halliday, Managing Director, Halliday Fraser Munro Architecture and Planning Firm