As we begin to leave behind the ongoing lockdown restrictions of 2020, retailers are seeing the effects of decentralised cities. During the initial COVID outbreak, many businesses enabled their staff to begin working remotely. Then, after some time and evidence of increased productivity and job satisfaction, businesses began to embrace teleworking full-time. Soon after, the housing market experienced a significant boom, with particular value placed on properties further away from city centres. Since families no longer needed to live near to central offices, they could enjoy rural life instead.
The cost of this, however, is yet to be fully realised and already the effect of working professionals living further afield instead of clustered within cities is telling that retailers need to rethink their investment in the high street. Forward-thinking retailers are already reassessing their operations and looking at how the near future of retail may look for their concept.
In recent years, pop-up retail events have been an ideal way for retail concepts to enjoy moments of assured footfall in new areas, celebrating their brand or and reaching new customers. Now, however, they are being used to more certifiably assess potential business opportunities in rural areas. Brands, such as Ted Baker, have already begun hosting retail events and pop-up stores in towns further away from their city stores as a way of gauging demand in new locations.
Many benefits, such as the lower cost of rental and shop fittings in less-urbanised areas, means that there is less risk involved. Stores are able to open up a temporary concept, be it a store or novelty experience, without the high overheads of city centres.
For a long time, supermarkets have demonstrated the concept of character stores well. Nearby densely populated areas, superstores have opened, serving huge numbers of customers from large, warehouse-style stores. Then, in both major cities and rural areas, where either high rental costs or fewer customers shape the potential income, smaller, alternatively styled stores are created. Tesco, for example, have their Tesco Metro stores, which appear frequently across the city to meet the more frequent demand that their larger stores cannot service.
As urban foot traffic decreases, retailers are more likely to follow this model, further embracing distinct character stores across the country. This also means meeting the demand of click and collect stores, those which doubly serve as pick-up points for online orders.
High street retailers have remained resilient against the growing culture of e-commerce. Their valiance has proven worthwhile too, as customers continue to demonstrate demand for brick and mortar stores. However, some retailers are demonstrating that there is a potential benefit for bridging the gap between the two services.
Digitising the in-store experience has a huge number of benefits with the most attractive being the alleviation of stock from shop shelving. Shops can store the majority of their items elsewhere, ordering them for customers when required, and focus, instead, on offering experiential services within their retail space. This could, for example, manifest as Nespresso dedicating a portion of their store space to making and serving coffee, instead of entirely to various models of their machine. Customers are more likely to be drawn in-store, especially to experience a product that they cannot online.