A future built of clicks and mortar

With the retail sector under pressure from changes in consumer behaviour and the impact of online competitors, there are concerns, not only for retailers, but for commercial property landlords and developers who rely on its success.

But many traditional retailers are becoming more connected to online consumers while leveraging the advantages of having a physical presence.

Premises are becoming important as a showcase, with people researching online and then buying in store where they can touch the goods.

Retailers can exploit their physical stores as part of their distribution chains to help offer fast delivery times and reduce the costs of dealing with returns.

This hybrid model is proving so effective that e-commerce retailers such as Amazon are moving to a so-called clicks-and-mortar operation, combining physical stores with an online shopping experience.

The retail sector is also innovating to retain consumer attention. House of Fraser’s flagship store in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street provides an example of this, with additional attractions for shoppers including Gin71 bar and restaurant.

Diageo’s Johnnie Walker visitor centre, set to open at the former House of Fraser site in Edinburgh, will serve as both a tourist attraction and a retail outlet.

Apple’s stores, with the ethos of encouraging the local community to meet, learn and get inspired, is another example of a retailer moving beyond the traditional sales-driven approach.

Diversity has also become an increasing focus, with retail centres increasingly looking to provide a wider offering.

Edinburgh St James is an exemplar of this new integrated approach – promising 85 retail units, more than 30 food and drink outlets, a boutique cinema, Scotland’s first W Hotel, a 75-room aparthotel and some 150 residential apartments.

With the introduction of such developments, traditional retailers are rapidly consolidating their stores into a smaller number of big units in modern, fit-for-purpose centres.

The new owners of The Postings in Kirkcaldy are taking a proactive approach, aiming to reposition the centre as a key destination for the local community where people will want to work, shop and spend their leisure time.

Close working partnerships between the retail sector and local authorities are an essential part of this fightback. If attention is given to providing adequate parking and transport links, then footfall in city-centre developments can hold firm.

The retail sector remains a key employer, a vital aspect of the commercial property market and a major contributor to Scotland’s economy.

It is therefore encouraging to see innovative thinking which is helping the sector reposition itself for a promising future.

Roland Smyth is an of counsel retail sector specialist at law firm CMS