Shopping centres pulling up their socks

10:32 PM Tuesday October 31, 2017 Paul Charman

Sylvia Park shopping centre is expanding – including a new tower block called Sylvia Park No. 1. Photo / Artist’s impression

Shopping centres are staying relevant in the face of increasing online competition by embracing so-called “curated experiences” that can’t be replicated on a screen.

That’s the view of Colliers International’s Real Estate management national director Richard James, who is confident about the future of bricks and mortar retail in New Zealand.

“While we’ve seen a number of high-profile retail closures this year — including Topshop, Nosh and Pumpkin Patch — we’re also seeing continued investment in shopping centres, and a correlating increase in trade,” says James.

“A good example is New Zealand’s largest shopping centre, Sylvia Park, which owner Kiwi Property is planning to expand by a further 20,000sq m, including a new department store and enhanced food and beverage precincts.”

According to James the continued popularity of shopping centres — and their edge over online retailers — is explained by the curated experiences they now offer.

“Landlords have become particularly receptive to shoppers’ needs across three key areas — experience, expectation, and shared spaces,” he says.

“The experiences that shoppers can’t get online are a key attraction of bricks and mortar stores, including hospitality, entertainment and leisure.

“Food is among the big drivers here. Both nationally and internationally, we’re seeing a trend towards improving the options on offer, and with the cultural diversity we have in New Zealand, this promises to continually evolve.

“Shoppers also have expectations of a certain level of amenity. As a result, many centres offer the likes of free Wi-Fi, hotel-grade amenities and other services, and are embracing social media as to better connect with customers.

“Well-curated shared spaces are also making shopping centres more attractive.

“The creation of vibrant, social areas where people can interact and enjoy themselves encourages shoppers to spend more time and money.”

James says the key is for shopping centres to stay relevant.

“From a landlord perspective, it’s about meeting expectations by providing high-quality amenities and shared spaces, and naturally the right mix of retailers is vital to capture market share.

“From a retailer perspective, it’s all about providing great experiences, products and customer service.

“We’re already seeing these trends in play, and with the ease of some online shopping portals, it’s a very important trait.

“The physical design and layout of stores plays a vital part in the consumer feeling valued. Those retailers that invest in their stores will continue to derive further support.”

Colliers’ Evan Harris says centres also need to embrace online.

“The ‘bricks-versus-clicks’ mentality is an outmoded way of thinking — the two now work in synergy,” he says.

“We’re already seeing retail managers making good use of the wealth of data they have access to, including social media analytics, search trends, website traffic data, and retail spending figures.

“This data can help managers better understand customer expectations and habits, and embrace strategies to activate their shopping assets.”

In the future, shopping centres need to continue their emphasis on experiential offerings.

“The ‘shop local’ phenomenon will become more prominent as housing density increases and public transport improves in our main centres,” James says, “people may no longer need to do a full shop each week because they will be able to get all the fresh food they need from their local shopping centre as part of their daily routine.

“This is part of the growth we see in food retailing.”

He says shopping precincts will also become better curated.

“One of the key trends will be a blurring of the retail lease lines. Retail laneways, outdoor dining areas and well-designed shared spaces are among the options shopping centres should explore,” he says.

“Activity creates activity — a theme we need to pursue.”

In the longer term, technology will continue to change the services that shopping centres offer.

“Electric charging stations for vehicles will become more common; augmented reality offers the chance to help consumers better engage with and navigate shopping centres; and who knows, driverless vehicles could provide a new means of transportation, with centres providing a fleet of autonomous cars as part of their overall experiential offering.

“One thing is certain — the future of shopping centres will continue to be very dynamic and will need to adapt to social and technological currents of change.”

Colliers International’s Real Estate Management retail consultancy team is responsible for the management of more than 25 shopping precincts around New Zealand, including at Queenstown Central, Ormiston Town Centre in East Auckland, the Silverdale Mall in North Auckland and Christchurch.