How will the retail landscape evolve to meet the needs of customers? The answer, says Hames Sharley director Harold Perks, is all in the experience.
While online shopping may have surged since COVID-19 crashed on Australia’s shores – with Australia Post’s May eCommerce update posting 45 per cent growth year-on-year – the shift was already underway before the pandemic.
“The arrival of the coronavirus simply drove consumers and landlords to adopt practices they may not have been sold on previously,” says Perks, Hames Sharley’s retail and town centre portfolio leader.
Adaptation continues apace, despite the biggest fears of lockdowns failing to materialise. “Physical stores appear to have had little difficulty winning back business.” Nonetheless, Australia’s retail landscape is changing. “When you can buy on the internet, shopping must become less about what you can buy and more about the experience of buying it.”
Perks says bricks-and-mortar retail can leverage its strengths to create far more personalised, dynamic experiences, pointing to fashion retail as an example.
Take the showroom, where the store evolves from stockroom for goods to a place to interact with products. “Whether you call it sensory engagement or try-before-you-buy, the ethos is the same: you can’t interact with products physically when you shop on the web.”
Fashion retail’s strength is found in personalised customer care. Trying on clothes is “just the start,” he says. “Limited edition or custom styles available only in store would appeal to those who value standing out from the crowd, while live-streaming events such as product launches would cater to the budding social media influencer.
“Both these ideas steer away from the old-fashioned modes of clothes shopping and concentrate instead on elevating the level of in-store experience. It’s this kind of innovation – tailored to specific stores – that will ensure traditional storefronts continue to thrive.”
Convenience and community spirit
It’s also time to rethink the ‘grab-and-go’ culture of some retail, where speed of acquisition and breadth of range were prioritised over human connection and personal interaction.
“Lockdowns made us slow down and shoppers gained a new appreciation of local businesses. Forced to seek convenient places to source essentials, it was as if we’d noticed these places for the first time,” Perks says.
Local shops, with their “eclectic mix” of traders, have a renewed appeal as “it’s rare to find two high streets with the same offering”. And with restrictions in place in some states, the high street is the perfect venue for “street fairs, pop-up markets and even food trucks,” he adds.
But how do we ensure the high street remains relevant once the pandemic passes? Perks says the answer is in the experience. “With smaller numbers comes greater attention from staff, and opportunities for social interaction that can’t be found in bigger chains.”
Local businesses can also learn from the best of all-under-one-roof retail offerings. Large-format retail that supports convenient parking, ease of access and extended hours of operation can be replicated on a smaller scale to “reap dividends”.
Perks suggests a new era for retail is ahead – one which “blends the convenience and community spirit of our newly rediscovered local centres with the advantages of large-scale offerings”.
“By encouraging a symbiosis of physical and online commerce, the future will be a place where both can exist in harmony.”