Retail precincts are not uncommon in many places around the world. It is, in fact, one of the oldest retail formats. When we talk about retail formats, we must also understand the history of how shopping precincts came about.
They began from markets and till today, their roots are still very strong – there are many locations in the world where a market is still the main place for shopping.
Retail formats evolved from the humble markets into bazaars of makeshift stalls before progressing into groupings of retail buildings. The combination of retail stores on a street within a few buildings became a common sight. These busy street-styled shopping strips would also have homes or offices atop each store.
Hence began the idea of a community of retail offerings which are symbiotic in relationship, creating the first strip street shopping. This would then become the economic and social focal points of the community’s village or town centre.
As retail development progressed, new formats began to emerge. One such is a one-stop department store with arcades created by flanking lane shops which are off the main roads.
Enclosed big-box shopping malls became the rage for decades thereafter as retail formats were again reformed or evolved to satiate the hunger for differetial experiences. Climate control became the game-changer which popularised enclosed shopping centres.
“De-malling” became common in the 2000s as shopping malls attempted to bring down the walls to create a connection with the natural surroundings.
Retail precincts have always been the focus of any city or township or even village. Good retail precincts would also increase the value of properties and create opportunities for the local economy.
However, there have been failures as popular precincts fail to grasp the changing retail environment and poor property management and town planning put out the fire which fuelled the growth.
In Southeast Asia, Singapore is the most glaring. Reports have been coming in ever so frequently that many shopping malls and retail stores along the famed Orchard Road are not doing as well as before.
Previously, Orchard Road was one of the world’s foremost retail precincts with ever-increasing rental rates. Today this has changed. The main shopping precinct is now located near housing areas and near the mass rail transit (MRT). As people become time-pressed and with offices becoming mobile, shopping precincts have moved nearer to their homes.
In Sydney, Australia, the shopping precinct consisting of George, Pitt and York streets is currently reformatting itself with improved walkability and connectivity.
In Bangkok, Thailand, the Rama 1 and Ploenchit roads are home to many shopping malls. However, street walkability is not good. The only plus point is the availability of the sky walks which connect the train stations with various shopping malls.
In Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Bukit Bintang would be of similar attraction but what needs urgent attention is making it pedestrian friendly.
Hong Kong, on the other hand, has many shopping precincts at Tsim Sha Tsui, Sheung Wan and Causeway Bay where walkability becomes key and the very element making it as successful as in Japan.
Going forward, the success of a shopping mall precinct would be the ability to embrace the ever-changing and fast-paced environment.
Retail precincts would again become a huge draw for the community. It would not be about how big the malls are as by themselves, they would no longer be able to create such diversity of experiential ambience as a shopping precinct.
Customers today are more sophisticated. The millennials who form the bulk of the shopping public especially by 2025, would mean that shopping precincts would continue to attract.
Understanding their behaviour would give an insight into how shopping and retail precincts would be attractive and remain so.
A shopping precinct is appealing because it has diversity and free expression. It needs to be able to grasp the idea that uniformity and discipline will stand side by side with organised chaos. Free expression and uniformed simplicity would be the two ends of diversity.
The main reason for this appeal is the potential of visual and sensory excitement, enticement and elements of surprise.
Attracting the right retail mix would be the key in such a creation. Many a time we see shopping malls on the same road trying to copy each other with nearly the same tenants. It is a fallacy to think that the management of a certain shopping mall type is able to also grasp the other type of target market.
Being good at managing an upmarket shopping mall does not guarantee being good at managing a mid-end or affordable-targeted shopping mall.
The management needs to have acute expertise in its selected target market as more often than not, many do not think this way. Knowing luxury does not mean you know fast movers.
Retailers must also play their part in creating a unique attraction for their store. Once the potential shopper is lured, a retailer must be able to engage and convert the visit into actual sales.
The ambience and promises of offerings are the lures, while actual conversion would depend on how well the product or service is perceived in order to invoke a current or potential purchase.
On a lighter note, those playing or have played Pokemon would know what a lure is and how it works.
Connectivity is very important in making a shopping or retail precinct work. Regardless of how famous you are, potential sales and visits are always not maximised if connectivity is disregarded. There is no point knowing where to go, if the area is hard to go to.
Parking facilities and public transportation hubs are important. Today, these facilities are limited.
Sydney, for instance, has recognised this and created a Sydney Light Rail to connect the precincts and also other car park facilities which are located in dedicated buildings.
Pedestrianising the shopping and retail precinct is also very important. The traditional five-foot ways should be extended into 4m (13ft) widths.
This is the standard of Sydney. The open area overhead should be covered. If this is done, retail precincts and shopping precincts would be well pedestrianised. Walkability is an important aspect of the success of a retail precinct.
Weather is a concern but subjective. With technology, you can easily check the weather via your smart device.
The opportunity to create diversity would mean that shopping precincts would consist of unique shops, markets, sidewalk cafes, restaurants, department stores, shopping arcades, shopping malls, hotels, offices and services.
Each element would create a potential retail opportunity as the precinct would also have a diverse day and night population.
Visual and sensory excitement and enticement would automatically invoke interest. Technology would also play a part in value creation.
The Internet of Things would mean convenience of shopping in a precinct. From knowing where to go and to actually get there and have information at your fingertips, shopping would no longer be mundane and boring.
Security would then be focused as the police would also be able to walk the streets and mingle with the people. A shopping and retail precinct is stronger than a single shopping entity.
One cannot stand alone as a single department store or a regional centre for long. What is needed is a combination of retail formats to create a precinct which is connected and easily accessible.
Only then would the law of gravitational pull of diversity and offerings be successful. A retailer or a single property can never be able to satiate everyone nor would each of them be masters of everything.
Collaboration and innovation, together with the embracing of arts and culture would be the key ingredients in attracting the millennials.
Anthony Dylan is a member of The Malaysian Shopping Malls Association