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What options for retail spaces?

5' read - published February 21st, 2023

According to McKinsey[i], online shopping is here to stay, even post-pandemic. In the United States, there is a 15-30% growth in consumers who purchase online and more than 55% of US consumers prefer to shop online[ii]. What’s more, high-income earners show the greatest intent towards online shopping. This means that the high-touch in-person luxury shopping experience is also not untouchable by the online shopping trend. Finally, nearly three-quarters of in-store shoppers search online before visiting stores, indicating the importance of omnichannel or hybrid shopping experiences. In short, the lines between online and in-store shopping are blurring.

Physical retail have different opportunities to face this new reality:

1. Converting declining shopping centres

In the United States, many peripheral shopping centres are experiencing a decline in footfall. The shops are no longer able to compete with online retail. In this case, the site can be converted and, with a little ambition and imagination, accommodate unexpected uses.

For example, Highland Mall (Austin) was bought by the university to expand its campus. The commercial buildings were redeveloped to accommodate students. One Hundred Oaks (Nashville) was converted into a medical centre. Former Macy's shopping centre (Richmond Heights) was bought by the Life Storage company to turn it into a storage unit service.

These three suburban shopping centres had large spaces and excellent accessibility, particularly by car, which allowed new activities to be set up that welcomed a large public.

2. Reviving existing shopping malls

Another solution to prevent shopping areas from being abandoned is to bring new uses to them. A greater mix of uses in these areas allows the shops to attract a local clientele that did not exist before.


In Belfast, Ireland, the BHS Store had been empty for some years. Alterity Investments has purchased the building and will convert it into a new leisure destination. Some of the retail space will remain, but food and leisure space is being added. The department store can then be revived by attracting new customers.

In Providence, USA, the Arcade Providence shopping centre has suffered a long period of vacancy. This downtown building, built in 1823, is very popular with the inhabitants of the city. To bring it back to life, flats were built on the upper floors of the mall and retail space was retained on the ground floor. With this conversion of the premises, the site is being used again.

In the same vein, in the suburbs of Seattle in the United States, investors built housing on the site of the Alderwood Mall. 300 flats were created in part of the buildings, while the rest retained its commercial function. Again, this idea helps to attract new customers for the shops.

3. Creating entertaining destinations and delivering experiences beyond shopping

When people go shopping today, they are looking to be entertained. Some shopping facilities have added immersive experiences beyond shopping to enhance the entire experience.

In Changsha, China, Over the Rainbow is a rooftop intervention that seeks to enhance the mall visitor experience by activating the terrace space. The result is a colourful rainbow-like outdoor community center, meeting place and recreational space with great views of the city. There are also facilities dedicated to taking selfies for social media posting and incidentally promotion of the premises.

J1M5 boutique and The Grove Apple Store are examples of using interior design elements to make the in-store experience more immersive. J1M5 boutique is a single cabinet that can be transformed into different configurations, allowing quick modification of the entire retail space. Displayed mirrors standing at the end of space also make customers feel like they're standing in between lofty buildings, and attract them to immerse and indulge in the orderly yet infinite space. At The Grove Apple Store, all of the interior design elements were conceived according to the principles of biophilic design, seeking to reconnect the users of the interior spaces with nature. The store is intended to be a dynamic space, inspiring creativity in people of all ages.

At the Global Harbour Mall in Shanghai, China, Mall Pods are dedicated to entertain one specific audience: The husbands of shopping wives. These "husband storage" facilities allow wives to shop quietly, while the husbands sit in glass pods and play retro 1990s video games.


4. Bringing innovative activities to the city centre

In the city centre, many shops have closed since the Coronavirus pandemic. They are finding it difficult to resist competition from online sales and. In order to compete, downtown shops need to offer innovative activities.

In Finland, the companies Motley and Fyra have come up with a new concept of relay points for parcel delivery, Box by Posti. These are shops where you can have your parcels delivered in secure lockers, but not only that. Box by Posti offers booths for trying on ordered clothes, a box recycling service, and pop-up store spaces for brands launching online to get their name out there.

On the public authority side, the city of Saint-Denis in France has decided to take charge of the diversity of its city centre commercial fabric. It has therefore created a public company responsible for buying shops in the city centre and then renting them to retailers chosen by the public authorities. In this way, the city can keep control of the market and ensure that food shops open in the city centre, for example, instead of so-called "cold" shops such as bank and real estate agencies.


5. Embracing a hybrid shopping experience

Although the impact of online shopping should not be ignored, physical shopping will not completely disappear. Instead, it will evolve. A hybrid shopping experience will probably emerge. Already today, think about click and collect and augmented reality experiences in-store.

Gucci Live offers livestream contact between in-store personnel and shoppers to mimic as much as possible the in-store experience online. Initially, Gucci used a closed-down physical retail store during the pandemic to host Gucci Live. Today, it has dedicated studios to mimic luxury in-store shopping experiences.

Two examples of retail concepts where online direct-to-consumer brands get to have a physical place to display their products are Showfields and Mox. At Showfields, during the night, the coworking space becomes an invite-only residence for the retail brands and artists of Showfields to host their online community in an offline world. MOX has opened co-retailing spaces where small creators can sell their products without worrying about logistics. Products are displayed with those of other brands and it also offers a pick-up point for customers who have purchased online.

Retail has changed and is still constantly evolving. The online world offers convenience to shop from your couch, and the offline world offers the ability to create immersive experiences. Opportunities are abound to embrace the online world in an offline setting.

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