Where next for retail?

The retail sector, both in the UK and internationally, has been thrown upside down in the past 20 years, and will continue to transform profoundly as customers and communities expect more. Retail design expert Marcelina Zielinska, writing here in 2018, outlines some of the key changes and predictions we should be prepared to see in retail over the coming years.

Increasingly, retail developments will be knitted together with leisure and entertainment, food courts, residential units, offices and other ingredients.

It is hard to believe that it was so recently considered the height of modernity to provide a standalone covered building with a mix of shops, book-ended by a couple of major anchor tenants, which would close at 6pm on the dot. Shoppers, retailers, and indeed entire communities demand far more from retail-led developments now.

With the internet age still only in relative infancy, the retail scene has already been convulsed by developments in digital technology. Many household names from the 20th century have disappeared, unwilling or unable to adapt to the new era, while others are having to completely transform their business models as online back-room start-ups have turned into global leviathans, completely up-ending the retail order as we once knew it.

Now, more than ever before, retailers need to keep on top of new developments in the sector, which is no easy feat given the break-neck speed at which ideas and technology can become obsolete. Predicting future trends in such circumstances might be considered foolhardy, but it is necessary to create a coherent base from which developers, designers and retailers can plan how to proceed.

Here are some key predictions for trends in retail over the coming years for which we might do well to prepare right now:

# The internet revolution continues – Retailers will have adapted to the internet or will have gone out of business. It will continue to change how we shop, our methods of purchase, retailers’ ability to sell worldwide without a physical presence, the impact of overseas brands and ideas and the nature of logistics.

Successful retailers will be bringing digital into the physical spaces.

# Digital technology will immerse the shopper – Successful retailers will be bringing digital into the physical space (called ‘phygital’) – via augmented reality, magic mirrors, digital fit-outs, digital signage and digital shopfronts. The real and the digital will be increasingly combined, allowing retailers to change how customers experience their premises and consumers to immerse themselves in products and services before purchasing.

# Customers will demand a social experience – The trip to a shopping location will be more recreational, no longer merely transactional, with shops serving as advice and inspiration points as well as becoming a new type of social environment. More is expected from stores now than ever before.

# A mix of uses will be the norm – The days of standalone buildings housing just retail and a handful of F&B outlets are in the past. Increasingly, retail developments will be part of a mix, knitted into the surrounding streetscape, which will include leisure and entertainment, food courts, health centres, offices, educational facilities, residential units and other ingredients, providing an all-round community feeling late into the evening.

The desire of people to seek thrills or be entertained will help keep retail areas alive.

# Leisure will be a central component – Shoppers increasingly want a ‘day out’, and retail will be just one element of that. That experience might include rock climbing, fishing, sky diving, skating, rafting, or attending concerts and fashion shows. The cinema experience, in particular, will change in nature, with a lot more immersion via 4-D technology and virtual/augmented reality. The desire of people to seek thrills or be entertained will help keep retail areas alive in a challenging era.

# Storage requirement will diminish – In an age of online retail dominance, many stores will try to lower their overheads by dispensing with unnecessary assets and moving to a business model where shops are seen as ‘brand engagement vehicles’, essentially showrooms, with many products stored and delivered from outside the shop itself.

Street food venues and gourmet options becoming much more prominent and important.

# F&B will become more dominant – The provision of F&B is changing rapidly, with food markets, street food venues and gourmet options becoming much more prominent and important, with an emphasis on fresh and healthy produce and a diversity of world cuisines. It will be common to see a large percentage of floor-space being given over to well-thought F&B provision.

# 3D printing will transform the nature of shops – The reduction in storage requirements could be aided by the advent of 3D printing of products to order. Physical materials will only be needed at the final stage of the design process. Suppliers and manufacturers will be made obsolete for such products, and 3D printing files will be easily distributed so that the product can be made anywhere. Retailers will play a role in this process if 3D printing technology is available within their outlets.

# Retail will adapt to a transport revolution – Developments in drone technology, smart cars and other means of travel/delivery will mean that traditional car parking space will be less necessary, but other facilities might be required. Landing areas, charging points, and other provision will become more common.

Retail environments will increasingly be designed sustainably and decorated with plants.

# Sustainability – Shoppers are increasingly conscious of their environmental footprints and that of the products they buy. We will see an increasing trend for recycled goods and materials, which will also offer an opportunity for lower costs and prices. Retail outlets will have to be increasingly green-friendly in design, and will commonly be designed sustainably and decorated with plants.

In short, the retail developments of coming decades are not going to be able to stand apart from the communities in which they live, nor from the technological revolution taking place all around. Failure to come to an accommodation with the age in which we live has always been disastrous for commercial enterprises of all types, but the weeding-out process has become extraordinarily ruthless since the turn of the millennium.

The struggle to survive in this new environment is, in retail terms, Darwinian in nature. For that reason, retailers and developers need to plan meticulously but flexibly, being very careful in the choices they make, the designs they adopt and the business models they follow.

Chapman Taylor has been at the cutting edge of retail design for decades, and is constantly researching and monitoring market developments. The designs we create reflect our understanding of what makes a creative, successful and resilient retail schemes. Our track record of providing flexible and attractive environments, whether shop interiors, large shopping centres or retail-led, mixed-use town centre masterplans, has made us the ideal partner for developers and retailers who require future-proofed, popular and commercially successful shopping environments.

About the Author

Marcelina Zielinska (MSC Arch and Urb Des, RIBA, FRSA)

Director, UK

Marcelina has extensive experience of all design stages on a diverse range of projects of various scales, from individual buildings to large urban masterplans.

She has a particular passion for high street regeneration, with a talent for anticipating future trends in retail and leisure and the impact they will have on town centres. Her current projects include heritage-sensitive masterplans for historic city centres.

As an architect and urban designer, Marcelina understands the importance of placemaking and of combining uses to create socially, commercially and environmentally sustainable communities, both in the UK and internationally.

Marcelina has been with Chapman Taylor since March 2007, when she joined the company to help deliver St. David’s 2 in Cardiff. Marcelina was promoted to the UK Board in 2023.

Areas of expertise:

Masterplanning / Mixed-use / Retail / Leisure / Asset Enhancement / Placemaking

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