Retail investors interested purely in rents and covenants will play no part in the establishing sustainable destinations.
That was the key message offered by a panel at a debate at REVO Liverpool 2017 called “Finding the human connection in a tech world”.
Retail is a real estate sector that can easily be both disrupted by technology and enabled by it, according to panel members Cameron Scott, chief executive of Nash Bond, and Gaston Gaitlan, chief executive of Spain-based The Leisure Way, which provides advice on how to bring emotional value to schemes.
The pair offered insights on how shopping malls and town centres could survive in an increasingly robotic world.
For Gaitlan, the answer is going backward in time, not forward.
"In early times, markets were places where people did more than just shop,” he said. “They were negotiating, discussing, meeting friends. The market was the activation of that town, it was the social hub. This is what we need to study again. How do we activate our malls so that they become the social hub of their community?”
“You have got to get your anchor tenants right,” said Scott, pointing out that this did not necessarily mean retail anchors. They could be theatres, museums or similar attractions. He added that curating the tenants around those anchors was also vital for creating spaces that people wanted to visit.
“Food and beverage, leisure and public realm are very important,” he said. “People want to shop and spend time in beautiful places.”
Gaitlan agreed, adding that it was happiness that kept people coming back to malls and town centres and that it was this that should be measured when determining the success of an investment.
“We have to think about what we need to do to make people happy. If people feel good, you will have more people in your asset, they will stay longer, talk about it more, and post on Instagram,” he said.
Gaitlan said this was already the way that retailers were thinking about retail, citing examples such as Nike, which uses its physical stores as places for people to go to explore and test, and have fun.
“We have to understand that it doesn’t matter where people do their purchasing,” he said. “They can do it in the bathroom or on the bus. What they need to have in their memory is a moment, a feeling, an emotion. We need to work on the individual. We need to go back to the primary need to connect with people and understand that people are not machines.”