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1st Oct 2018

Delivering an ‘Experience’: How the High Street will Survive. A review of Revo 2018

It seems hardly a day goes by without some high street stalwart going to the wall. And with customers abandoning brick and mortar stores for shopping online from the comfort of their sofa, it seems the retail sector is in crisis. Or is it? 

At this year’s Revo conference and exhibition the mood was pretty upbeat, with leading players saying they were designing business models to address the issues head on and respond to different customer behaviours. ‘Experience’, ‘diversification’ and ‘flexibility’ were just three of the buzzwords most used by speakers.   

Revo is the largest retail led gathering in the UK and brings together people and business that create, deliver, operate and occupy places to live, work and shop. This year saw over 2,200 delegates attend with over 240 brands and exhibitions from retail, residential, offices, leisure, local authorities, hospitality and technology.

Are shops killing the high street?

The first seminar, presented and chaired by Alistair Parker of Cushman & Wakefield, talked about the over-supply of retail space and how, as an industry, we need to re-purpose and transform spaces and places to deliver formats and experiences that are relevant, vibrant and engaging to customers and our wider communities.

He was joined by panellists David Kosky, co-founder, Work.Life; Crispin Lilly, CEO, Everyman; Guy Nixon, CEO and founder, Native; Ed Templeton, director, Carousel; and Karen Whelan, CEO, Surrey Heath Borough Council. 

The panel agreed there were simply too many shops and market leaders need to work hard to transform these spaces.

David Kosky asserted that “experiences are going to be key for the high street…”. Ed Templeton agreed. “Experience is the fundamental thing.” 

Local authorities have become much more involved in the retail sector in recent years including purchasing shopping centres and retail assets. This helps with town centre regeneration as a whole and creates different experiences that attract consumers and encourages them to come out and shop.

A case in point is Camberley shopping centre in Surrey, purchased by Surrey Heath Borough Council for £86M. Karen Whelan said that with local authority involvement they can “make things happen more quickly.” 

The conference organisers also launched a Revo Roadmap to Regeneration as a guide for local authorities taking over the management of retail assets. Involving private sector advisers in the process was recommended. According to Revo, the aim of the framework is to help deliver “sustainable resilient urban centres that attract investment and deliver regenerative projects.”

Futureproofing. But do we know what for?

This session acknowledged that retail and retail property are undergoing seismic change. But do we really know what the future holds or what our lives as consumers will be like in decades to come?

The session was chaired by Ed Cooke, chief executive of Revo who interviewed the ever-entertaining Peter Cowgill, chairman of JD Sports, who spoke about the need for retailers to create theatre around exclusive product ranges in stores. 

Adaptation and flexibility were key themes here. Panellist included Seamus Smith, executive vice president of Global Payments & Banking, Sage was joined by Polly Barnfield OBE, founder & CEO at Maybe* the conversational commerce platform, who said that increasing the digital output of a place directly increases the physical footfall to that place.

The consensus was that no one really knew for definite where retail was heading, such was the pace of change. Will shopping centres even be called shopping centres in the future?

Going forward, physical spaces will be used in different ways, with traditional department stores shrinking in size but food and beverage spaces increasing, along with hotels, culture spaces,
pop-ups, co-working and residential.   

It was agreed that it was important for landlords and retailers to work together to make spaces exciting and interesting and mix-use. 

What did we learn from Revo 2018? 

The whole retail sector is changing as the way people shop is changing. Consumers aren't just shopping for goods anymore. They’re shopping for an experience.

The seismic shift in the traditional retail landscape is having profound impact on businesses. The relationship between retail, offices, residential and leisure is evolving. Which means we’re re-purposing and transforming spaces and places to deliver formats and experiences that are relevant, vibrant and engaging to our customers and our wider communities.

That means engaging with, and understanding, other parts of the real estate. Infrastructure, retail and the placemaking sector is critical as we move towards more dynamic, mixed-use destinations.

By Andrew Pollard, Partner, Henry Riley LLP

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