Retail ecosystems in community’s focus
The success of Westfield’s Bespoke demo space in the US offers a fresh take on how shopping centres and their owners and operators can foster closer ties with local communities through collaborative retail spaces.
Bespoke launched in Westfield San Francisco Centre a year ago as a retail first-of-its-kind ecosystem – a veritable hybrid where tech meets retail head-on. Bespoke is essentially a dedicated space within the shopping centre that acts as a demo, co-working and event space. Though tested as individual components throughout shopping centres across the globe, the combination of all three within a novel space inside the busy centre of an urban community has not been done before.
Westfield Labs, Westfield Corporation and venture partner, Forest City, say the space has exceeded all expectations. In its short life to day it has been home to over 75 retail tech start-ups and brands; hosted over 100 events and 20 tech demos; and has received several awards, including one for being the top event space in San Francisco. The co-working space component has also been expanded to now house 12 new private offices.
“More than half of all individuals or companies have leveraged more than one component of the Bespoke ecosystem, again proving our original hypothesis that an ecosystem was the key ingredient to the recipe,” a Bespoke spokesperson told Inside Retail Weekly.
“We’ve been excited to see the various companies in co-working cross-collaborating and building a true community. The retail innovation and ideas coming out of those teams – including RetailNext, Dyson, Shoe Lovers and Boon + Gable – speak for themselves.”
As retailers and landlords alike search for new and unique ways to engage with customers, Bespoke’s success underlines the importance of creating environments that foster ‘the next big thing’ – with the incorporation of tech not an option, but absolutely essential, to improving the overall customer journey through compelling digital and instore experiences.
“It’s also been exciting to see company “marriages” form thanks to the collaborative environment,” said the spokesperson. “Our visitors crave access to new, hands-on and ever-changing experiences, and the demo space provides this access. We’ve seen excitement for this space from retailers and brands, with more than 20 demos occurring the first year, ranging from demos of Angry Birds Virtual Reality (VR), to hands-on engagements with robots and 3D printers.”
When opportunity knocks
Speaking to Inside Retail Weekly, Danny Lattouf, managing director of Ideaworks Sydney, said in its simplest form, Bespoke shows us the power of investing in innovation and that opportunity knocks when retailers break away from the traditional rules of retail and push into new directions.
“By showcasing what flexible spaces, with strong infrastructure, can become over time, it highlights that the future of retail/shopping centres is not about landlord and tenant – not about a place where you buy things,” he said. “It’s the heart of the community, where all things come together. It’s what online cannot compete with – human interaction on several panes of engagement. Working together, experiencing new things, shopping, dining, attending events, being educated – and more.”
It’s one thing to have a smart idea or concept; executing and ongoing investment are really the test for experiments like Bespoke. Westfield said building world-class experiences is hugely important to its rationale across shopping centres, as evidenced by the recent acquisition of Scott Sanders Theatrical Productions and the appointment of award-winning Broadway, film and television producer, Scott Sanders, as creative head of global entertainment for Westfield centres globally.
Strong industry support for the program speaks to the validity and poignancy of these hybrid collaborative spaces in retail centres. When asked if the space is better suited to start-ups, or whether major retailer’s have taken up the opportunity to utilise the space, Westfield said the concept was hatched with the intent to serve businesses of all sizes and at all stages.
Since launching a year ago, a variety of companies have utilised the spaces. The coworking space has been in hot demand since launch, acting as a home to companies ranging from retail analytics companies, to businesses focused on wearables, 3D printing and mobile payments. Larger companies using the space include Retail Next and Dyson.
“Spaces like this can be used to push boundaries and test viability of ideas before consideration of bringing them into their stores,” Lattouf said.
The demo space permits retailers to showcase customisable and high-tech offers by getting products in the hands of real customers in Westfield San Francisco Centre and getting real-time feedback. Over the last year, Bespoke has featured 3D printing, virtual reality gaming, connected home devices, wearables and robots. The space most recently hosted Omni, a start-up local storage company, immediately followed by Audi’s Audi on Demand concept.
The 18,000sqft event space has hosted over 50 events in the past year, with product launches, workshops, runway shows able to use the space given its flexible, transformable nature. The event space is not restricted to unknowns or start-ups either – with large companies including Dreamforce, Google Ventures and Adobe seeing fit to utilise the space.
So, would Bespoke resonate in shopping centres in Australia? Lattouf believes the beauty of what was done in San Francisco is that it was authentic to the local community.
“It wasn’t an idea for the sake of being different – it was a different idea that embraced the local community and delivered something unique that they could own [and] shape themselves over time. If it were to be done in Australia, it would need to be something that meant something to the people of the community. To resonate and be successful, it would require a clear purpose, beautiful execution, and an ongoing commitment.”