Future shoppers would rather eat more than buy

Tramsheds Harold Park 2_Credit Visualeyes PhotographyPut down the pencil, don’t draw a building yet and think about who they are, what they want and what’s a story that we can tell.

That’s a favourite quip brand strategist Katie Sprague likes to share with architects before embarking on a new design rationale for a shopping destination. Sprague works at design consultancy CallisonRKTL, which works with design firm, Arcadis.

IRW recently caught up with Sprague, an industry veteran and expert with 25 years of experience who presented at a Property Council of Australia event on retail trends. As she explained, it’s not Amazon that local retailers need to be scared of – it’s changing consumer behaviour.

In 2015 and for the first time in history, Americans started spending more money on dining out than buying groceries. Of 1,200 regional centres in the US, those with a traditional tenancy mix of anchor department stores and fashion chains plus a food court, one in three are in severe financial strife and 211 are currently being repurposed.

With the likes of Sears and Macy’s closing a significant amount of stores, centres have been left with a large amount of space left to fill, which Sprague said highlighted the importance of capitalising on millennials’ desire to eat more than they buy.

“They would much rather go out for a great meal rather than have more things,” she said.

“They’re really looking for experience and food is the easiest to build a plan for and make money, so we are now seeing centres create incredible food offers – and it’s not just a fancy food court.”

Innovative examples of repurposing sites include a cannabis ranch in Colorado, based on a concept for an experiential destination centred around marijuana; Lone Star Brewery, a repurposed San Antonio Brewery in Texas transformed into a mixed-use project; and the food halls that are part of the King of Prussia Mall in Philadelphia.

“It’s about having a variety of things,” she said. “From having an amazing market hall where you can buy fresh food or watch food being prepared, maybe even take a class.”

Pointing to research from Callison’s report, Mall of the Future, Sprague said the days of the traditional American mall of the 1950s-1990s have drastically changed as it has been forced to compete with other channels, venues and activities to attract a new kind of consumer – a consumer who has more options than ever before, but is also less interested in spending hard-earned cash on accumulating more “stuff”.

Looking ahead to the future of shopping centres, Sprague said what we know for sure is that it’s an entirely new retail experience – one that will change throughout the year and even the day to keep people coming back for new, fresh experiences.

Sprague pointed towards the conservation and urban renewal development of Tramsheds Harold Park into Sydney’s ‘oldest new food destination’ as a local example of the direction centres are headed. Owned by Mirvac Retail, the centre was recently recognised by the Australian National Trust for its The National Heritage Trust Awards for its adaptive re-use of the original 1904 Tramway Depot.

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