A changing retail landscape and urban design

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A couple of weeks ago C4’s Grand Designs featured a home-build project by Alan Dawson, the owner of Alan Dawson Associates Ltd, an art and architectural metalwork company that, in Mr Dawson’s words, has grown over the last 25 years supplying bespoke services to shopping centre developers.

And this was the rub. Shopping centre development has ground to a halt, so ADA has little business coming in. So Mr Dawson designed his own steel-framed house, had it prefabricated in the ADA workshops and – an hour later – it was transported to the site and quickly installed.

It’s easy to put the downturn in shopping centre construction down to the recession, but I was wondering what other factors are shaping the retail ecosystem.

I read recently that Walmart will be opening a series of smaller stores in the US – only 30,000 square feet or so. One reason is a desire to get into smaller urban markets. This would seem to equate to the emergence of express versions of Tesco and Sainsbury’s in the UK’s suburbs and city centres.

But two of the other reasons given were intriguing.

First, people are finding it hard to find things in the bigger stores. There are so many different thing stocked that tracking down a specific item can be difficult. Or once you’ve found it, getting it down from the third tier of the pallet rack can be more than a nuisance.

And, second, the car parks are so large that getting from car to shop and back again – families with children, older people, full trolleys – may not be that easy.

Walmart are concerned that people are prepared pay a little more, but find what they want quickly and leave.

I came across a short piece on SustainableCitiesCollective on the future of urban retail.

It picked up on the bricks-and-mortar versus online divide and suggested that to predict the future you simply look at what is done more effectively on the high street (food, immediate need items, experiences, services) and expect to see more of it, whilst there will be fewer shops for holidays, books / games / music and specialist goods that are more profitable online.

The British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) published an interesting research piece, which you can download, titled Future Shopping Places.

The objective of the research was ‘to describe the key trends in architecture, urban design, building design regulation and construction that will determine the form of retail places over the next ten years.’

Heightened competition adds an even more pressing need for dynamic approaches to refreshment, redevelopment, and radical transformation over the coming decade.

The principles of good urban design must sit at the forefront of strategies for renewal and new development and differentiation must be a priority in order to achieve destination pull.

E-tailing is creating a heightened requirement for convenience and is increasingly affecting the design of shopping places.

However, the future must see the increased use of sustainable construction techniques and design features for both new and redeveloped shopping places.

Place-making will be at the forefront of strategies for retail development. But in pursuit of competitive advantage, shopping places will seek to innovate by becoming highly differentiated environments.

Which simultaneously chimes and jars quite nicely with a quote from Ron Johnson (Apple’s head of retail) on Future Changes regarding where Apple plans to put its stores.

If you want to enrich their lives, you can’t be in a parking lot, off a highway. You gotta be where they live their life. You gotta be right where they work, where they play, where they live, where they shop. The only way to enrich their life is to be part of their life. They’ve got to walk 10 feet to your store, not drive the car 10 miles. That’s what enriching lives would take.

Both Apple and BCSC agree on the need for the place to be special, but Apple wants to be where you already are, whilst BCSC thinks you’re quite happy to drive there.

And finally … Purple Flag is an accreditation scheme from the Association of Town Centre Managers.

It ‘aims to raise the standard and broaden the appeal of centres between 1700 and 0600’ and ‘recognise excellence in the management of town and city centres at night’.

Just as Blue Flag is an indicator of a good beach, Purple Flag is set to be the indicator of where to go for a good night out and will bring positive publicity for successful town and city centres.

Right.

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