Insight

How innovation will help us shape the future of physical retail

David Fischel talks to Retail Week about the role of the physical retail space

What is the role of physical retail space in today’s consumer world, or more importantly what will it be tomorrow?  Constant talk about the decline of the high street and the digital versus physical battleground is fuelling negative sentiment towards the retail industry.

But we know from our own research and from what we see in our centres all year round that the physical store remains vital as savvy retailers increase revenues by a skilful combination of physical and online presence. According to a recent report by Verdict, a total of 89% of UK retail sales have ‘touched’ a store, from a combination of store sales, click and collect or in-store browsing and research.

Today’s consumer is channel-blind. They want good service from their favoured brands wherever they touch it.  The research from Verdict also shows that 55 per cent of consumers research online for purchases that are eventually made in store and 75 per cent still prefer to try on clothes before they buy them.

55%

research before buying

75%

try before they buy

89%

UK retail sales have ‘touched’ a store

This research demonstrates that the physical space, rather than becoming a dinosaur, is in fact alive and kicking. And even more interesting, it’s thriving because it continues to evolve and adapt.

Over the past year or so, we’ve seen international brands test and roll out across our centres.  Brands like Tiger, Kiko and Smiggle have used intu to enter the UK market and rapidly expanded to become national favourites as a result. Last year accessories retailer, Lovisa, followed in the footsteps of fellow Australian company Smiggle into the UK, with two of their first five stores at intu centres.

And it’s not just international retailers who are trialling physical space ahead of national UK expansion. A number of brands are also trialling innovative ways of marketing and selling within a shopping centre environment, such as traditional big box retailers like Sharps who are downsizing their footprint to take shopping centre space, as well as start-ups looking for ways to establish their businesses for the first time.

So when I’m asked about the death of the high street, I remind people just how innovative UK retail is, and about its long history of evolution and adaptation.  We should never consider a physical versus digital fight but rather look at the unique opportunity for innovation that improves the customer’s experience and enhances retailers’ sales.

This approach is so vital to the industry, whether you’re a retailer or a landlord. And with innovation in mind, we recently launched intu Accelerate, a 10 week incubation programme that will see us work with some of smartest start-ups out there and the best talent we can find to help us spot new ideas and continue to shape the future of retail and retail property.

We’ve seen from our recent competition with Virgin StartUp to find the UK’s most innovative food entrepreneurs that there are some truly unique and exciting ideas and businesses out there. Tapping into that and harnessing new ways of thinking is something we’ve done before and will continue to do so This will ensure that our business continues to evolve and as an industry we continue to make UK retail the success it is today.