Tumbleweed in the Malls

Is that tumbleweed rolling through the mall?

The challenges facing retail are well documented. The direct impact on retail shopping centres is expected, even anticipated, but exactly how that change will manifest itself is not clear. Some landlords and property managers seem to operate under the old paradigm that ‘formats evolve’ and there is always a new concept to replace one that is past its use-by date. (After juice bars we get gelato, right?)

But this time it is different.

In New Rules of Retail, Lewis & Dart estimate a reduction of 50% in retail outlets and terms it an ‘economic tsunami.’ Consultants have cried wolf about paradigm shifts in the past that these calls now go unheeded. But we are not witnessing a natural evolution, but we are dealing with a fundamental re-shaping of the retail landscape. The consequences of this shift are a reduction in the total store network with fewer bigger stores for some and a straight-forward reduction of store size for others.

The store formats which thrive on the physical experience will naturally come to dominate physical shopping centres, but the questions are:

  1. Is this enough?
  2. If not, what then?

The clear front runner at the moment is obviously FOOD. It is a growth category and we are seeing a great deal of innovation. But how many centres and how much space remains unanswered, but my retail instincts suggest that it will be less (of both) than we might like. This brings us to question #2.

If food won’t cover all the gaps in all the centres, what will? I believe that if we understand WHY food is a growth category, we may be able to unlock to the key to innovating in the other categories.

Food is a necessity, but that does not account for the more exotic and high-end sub-trends in the category. The popularity of shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules provide an insight into a new manifestation of consumer behaviour. Note that this is not a ‘shift’ in behaviour; it is actually simply that the environment and the available technology now allow a fundamental consumption preference to be manifested.

It is an understanding of these underlying consumer behaviours that will facilitate retailers and landlords to innovate at pace:

  • Consumers can (and want to) experience things on a multi-sensory level. (Experiential.)
  • Consumers want to be involved in the (co-)creation of their products and experiences. (Co-creation.)
  • Consumers want personal (customised) outcomes. (Personalisation.)
  • Consumers appreciate the value of things that are unique, artisanal and special. (Authenticity.)

Food readily taps into all of these underlying consumption preferences and our challenge is to transfer these principles to other categories.  (Note that the traditional consumption preferences of value, convenience etc. continue to apply.)

Services (some), Entertainment, and of course (those elusive) New Concepts are logical options for other formats that also rely largely on a physical experience, and could follow the same trajectory as food.

All of this potential growth will rely on relatively rapid (faster than ever) innovation. The questions the retail property sector must answer honestly are:

  • Will it be sufficient (as before) to wait for the market to evolve, or must you play a more proactive role? If so, what role will the landlord/manager play in this innovation process?
  • Do we have the depth of retail talent and skill in your organisation to drive innovation?
  • Are your processes and traditions (lease terms for example) and organisational culture conducive to experimentation – and inevitable failure?

Honest answers to these challenging questions are bound to trigger useful changes that are bound to impact returns in the not too distant future.

Dennis Price

Ganador: Equipping the retail supply chain with the skills and strategies to master the 21st century challenges. (Dennis can be reached on dennis@ganador.com.au or 0411 030 436.)