Making space for today’s consumer: how the old skill of placemaking is contributing to a new kind of retail

Within the wider discussion about omnichannel retail, another word keeps cropping up: placemaking. Placemaking as a concept dates back to the 60s and 70s, when architects and planners started to look for ways to reconcile the boom in private commercial and residential property with the need for welcoming public spaces. Now that shopping can be done entirely online, a new phase of innovation is aiming to put retail at the heart of spaces that continue to act as focal points for the whole community.

The success of developments like Westfield in London has underscored the importance of a diverse experience offering leisure – including food and drink, entertainment and fitness – alongside the shopping. As well as these elements, the digitally savvy customer also expects to be able to move seamlessly between buying online and in-store.

Commercial property adviser CBRE recently released a report titled ‘Global Retail and Placemaking, which notes that for all the buzz around e-commerce, physical retail sales are consistently higher and more profitable across markets and geographies. According to the Office for National Statistics, 85% of UK retail sales in January were in-store. Retailers are realising that far from being a dying asset, brick-and-mortar is alive and brimming with new possibilities. 

Integration is the watchword – integration of use to appeal to locals, workers and visitors alike; and integration of technology, including social media and wi-fi. Indeed, two of the main drivers behind these new spaces are also at the heart of the trend towards omnichannel: how to give consumers who don’t have to leave the sofa to shop a reason to, and how to extend that online experience into the physical one.  

In France, the Val d’Europe outside Paris has been cited as a strong example of weaving digital elements into the overall offer. Innovations include digital ‘totems’ to guide visitors through the complex via their smartphones, along with regular interactive kiosks. 

Last October, one of our trusted partners, John Lewis, opened a flagship store in Leeds’ Victoria Gate – a recently completed 170,000 sq ft retail development. The John Lewis store is the focal point of the new centre, which draws its architectural inspiration from city’s 19th century arcades. Creative use of visual merchandising and 3D graphics in the store itself invite customers to discover different sections for themselves rather than be directed to them.

Our own relationship with John Lewis contributes to its success as a truly omnichannel retailer. Through our retail finance solutions, they’re able to offer their customers a range of options for spreading the cost of purchases – something more and more retailers are finding is vital to maintaining footfall in the face of online competition.

Victoria Gate’s early success highlights just how important placemaking will be in the future of physical retail. As one of the developers commented when it opened, retail is “often not seen as cool by architects but architecture can do something with it”. I believe times are changing and that retail will increasingly be seen as a prize opportunity for architects to create a new kind of public space – one that offers today’s consumers an experience that all the convenience of shopping online just can’t match.

Gerald Grimes is the Managing Director of Hitachi Capital Consumer Finance. For more information, visit

Transforming the digital enterprise with AV

Imagine an interactive and personalised in-store shopping experience for headphones. As you pick up each pair of headphones from the demo station, the nearby digital signage monitor plays a short marketing video of the specific model you are holding. When you put the headphones over your head, your favourite song automatically streams from your phone into the headphones and the monitor display changes to show a picture of you wearing the headphones. 


Retailers must move with the times

A seamless customer experience is now a must, and retailers must be in a position to deliver.  The way we buy products has changed significantly as it becomes easier to access information from various channels.  Retailers know the importance of engaging with a customer as soon as they make contact with the brand.  We are too easily distracted by the simplest of things and we have a small opportunity to build that all important relationship.  In some cases you find a significant gap between what a customer expects and what is actually delivered by the retailer. In an onnichannel era we have to make sure the sales process is simple, functional and fully managed.  One way retailers are responding to these challenges is by utilising multichannel management to offer a clear structure for the benefit of the consumer. 

Modern shoppers expect all retail channels to flow smoothly from one to the other, but they also increasingly expect an individualised shopping experience. Shoppers have never thought in channels, and can be frustrated by the divide between channels in one business.  This is especially frustrating when its only one brand name above the door.

Consumers demand more choice, more interactivity, specialist knowledge and price transparency.  Many retailers are taking notes from their customers and incorporating web based retail pos which can offer retailers key information in real time.  If the retailer can offer a personalised experience based on the product attributes it can open up various possibilities including increased avenues for revenue.

Digital technologies have changed the traditonal customer journey.  It needs to help the consumer with what they are doing or facilitate a better experience.  It’s got to be functional and useful, global e-commerce is obviously increasing but actually, globally, retail in-store floor space is also increasing. A lot of that is driven by developing countries but it does highlight that it’s not one or the other. It’s all complementary and putting the consumer first.

It’s important to remember there isn't a one size fits all resolution, all channels have to set slightly different coordinates for different audiences.  The lines have been blurred between physical and digital and shoppers make the most of the particular environment that they find themselves in.  Technology is fast progressing and retailers must face it head-on.  The retail landscape changes at an incredible pace, and if brands don't get to grips with consumers preferences they may be left behind.

How Small Businesses Can Use Facebook and Twitter to Drive Traffic to Their Retail Shop

For most retailers there’s a good chance that many of your bricks and mortar customers and prospective customers are all online. Not necessarily online to buy products from you, but online through various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. 


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