The future is local

Even after the pandemic is over, Covid-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the way we shop and work, writes Chloe Keith, Group Head of Marketing.

By mid-July F&B and leisure operations will be up and running again alongside retail stores.  This will bring welcome relief to businesses, reinforcing the perception among consumers that we are heading back to some sort of normality. 

But the reality is that things are far from normal, and they may never be the same again. So what can retail and leisure destinations do to adapt to the new circumstances?

Our recent research surveyed shoppers at a range of retail destinations.  It found a marked reluctance to go back to the old ways. Only 47.6% of shoppers said they definitely would return to the shops.  While the remainder – a small majority – cited concerns that the behaviour of others and the breakdown of social distancing would put them at risk. Almost all said they expected to spend less time shopping than in the past.

When asked what would give them the confidence to venture out to the shops again, respondents highlighted a wide range of measures.  These included enforcing social distancing and restricting numbers in stores to making masks mandatory.

Human contact

However, there is a clear desire for everyday human contact that shopping brings. One respondent said: “I think the shopping experience will definitely change. It won’t feel as relaxed but it will be nice to have normality back!”

Another said: “It would be nice to have something engaging to look forward to seeing in a centre.  Something that makes you giggle or promotes happiness.  Just to break up the fear and anxiety that most people will have.”

So what will the future of shopping look like? Working from home has become the norm for many, and people who have access to an alternative are generally reluctant to use public transport. That means shopping locally is on the increase and this could become a permanent shift. It’s significant that Springboard’s footfall figures for the first week since lockdown eased in England, show central London remaining very quiet while suburban shopping centres and high streets performed better.

Closer to home

With a new defensive mindset, people seem to feel safer staying closer to home. Retail destinations that position themselves at the heart of their local community are best placed to capitalise on this trend. This needs to be reinforced with positive messaging about the practical steps centres are taking to ensure safety and hygiene.

And looking further ahead, a significant proportion of the workforce are finding that their homes are not set up for effective homeworking, either through lack of space or for family reasons. But at the same time, they are reluctant to start commuting into their offices again. Will this open up an opportunity to create a ‘third space’ where people can work locally?

Already Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield is looking to convert an empty House of Fraser store into office space. Centres including Ellandi’s Marlands centre in Southampton and AEW’s Festival Place in Basingstoke are investigating converting vacant units into drop-in workspaces. All that it needs are some desks, break-out areas and a good wifi connection and the benefits are clear – it will drive footfall, create customers for the F&B outlets and animate otherwise dead space.

Engaging communities

Mallcomm – our sister company can help rebuild and engage communities in a B2B and B2C environment, those local communities that are becoming more important as the UK begins to come back to life.  Through the app, communities can share information efficiently and effectively, building consumer confidence and in turn having a positive impact on physical spaces.  Relevant information can be pushed out to relevant people at the relevant time as they begin to return to work, or shop locally. 

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