Back to the Future

Experiences will connect the physical and digital in the third retail revolution

Ancient Greeks used to assemble in central gathering places in the heart of their cities where they listened to poets or politicians, competed in sporting events and took part in artistic, business and spiritual activities.

The assembly of people was known as agora, which also described the gathering place itself, which was found in the middle of a city or near the harbour and often surrounded by colonnades which themselves often included shops.

The nature of cities and town squares evolved over time, and shopping centres emerged to complement city streets and squares as retail locations. But retail centres themselves have constantly been evolving and the emergence of e-commerce signalled a need to more radically reimagine a future that offers what online cannot and complement what it can.

The third retail revolution – from physical to digital – has gathered pace as Covid-19 disrupted shopping malls and high streets. The dominance of the retailer and manufacturer is giving way to the customer as digitalisation of shopping changes the way consumers buy goods on an increasing scale – and challenges the purpose of the physical store in a way unthought of a decade or so ago.

PWC’s June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey captures some of the key shifts taking place. Most obviously, as we know, consumers have moved rapidly to digital. They have also become more health conscious. Time at home has helped people focus on themselves more than a busy commute-work schedule might allow – and they are focusing more on their safety when out of the home. Thirdly, they are becoming more eco-friendly, and sustainability is important. Unexpectedly, consumers are also more price sensitive as anxiety about jobs and economies persists, and finally, more local: consumers are happy to stay close to home as they find “creative ways to entertain and celebrate milestones in a socially distanced way.”

Hyprop has been exploring how its centres will be increasingly relevant in the 21st century to customers who, like the ancient Greeks, want public places that bring communities together in a way that is relevant to their changing lives – and Covid-19 has increased a need to belong, to be part of a community. The big 5 PWC findings are very much part of what we found our customers want.

Simply put, our customers want more than a shopping centre.

They want a modern town square.

They want a place where they can connect, engage and explore, a place that positively impacts the world around them, and offers exceptional and authentic experiences inspired by the communities they serve.

These principles are guiding the evolvement of Hyprop’s centres in a new world where physical and digital shopping will seamlessly interact, and where our customers will trade transactional time for experiences that add value to their shopping, their interest and their friendships.

We are blending brand, people and places in a golden thread that will create distinctive, differentiated centres which will become increasingly important to our customers as e-commerce grows.

Three differentiating principles come together to offer a unique experience: conscious retail ensures we design for people, planet and profit; we inspire our communities through authentic experiences and we “keep it real” by being inspired by our communities.

We are weaving this golden thread through all our centres, connecting brand, place and people in a way that will offer shoppers and other stakeholders a consistent experience across all touchpoints. There will be a common approach to engaging the retail ecosystem, and we will celebrate the individuality of each centre and the community it serves.

The essence, though, is in the evolving “town squares” which will shine a light on community, wellness, service, public spaces and entertainment. Our centres will feed and entertain, innovate and excite and be places to share and socialise.

Technology and the pandemic have fuelled debate about where office workers should be – at the office, working remotely or a bit of both – and e-commerce and the pandemic have changed the way many people shop.

Yet neither shift at the office or the shop challenges the notion that people need to connect with each other – indeed, you could argue they need to do so even more as they are buffeted by a perfect storm of pandemic and enforced isolation, economic uncertainty and political turbulence.

People need and want safe places to meet and share experiences as friends and as a community.

We have listened to our shoppers and learned from the ancient Greeks. Our centres will be the best of both worlds, offering the kind of retail experience our shoppers want and becoming gathering places for so much more.

This is the beginning for Hyprop’s centres; our 21st century town squares will blend the physical and digital, and offer places where people and communities engage, connect and explore.