The global retail sector has experienced an unprecedented level of change in recent years and the effects can be seen across UK high streets. 

Jonathan Goldstein

According to a recent report by PwC, a record net 1,234 stores disappeared from Britain’s top 500 high streets in the first half of 2019 alone.

We know that technology is continuing to affect bricks-and-mortar retailers: in 2018, an estimated 1.8 billion people worldwide purchased goods online. In the same year, global online retail sales hit $2.8trn and this is expected to rise to as much as $4.8trn by 2021.

Yet, we also know that increasing importance is attached to experience: a study by Harris Group found that 72% of millennials would sooner open their wallets for experiences than material items.

People do still want to go out, socialise and feel a sense of community. The internet has been very successful at replacing the high street on a transactional front, but it cannot compete when it comes to the social or experiential.

Making our town and city centres relevant again requires careful curation and management. We need to replace generic retail space with people-centric concepts that enrich the human experience by bringing people together and offering them something unique.

Oxford Street, London

Source: Shutterstock/alice-photo

Swingers’ transformation of the former BHS flagship store on Oxford Street into a seaside-themed venue is a perfect example; it’s golf, but you don’t have to be an expert to participate – you can go there with a group of friends to eat, drink, socialise and enjoy yourself with a bit of friendly competition.

The importance of community and experience is not just restricted to retail and leisure. Our investments in AllBright and Mortimer House are rooted in our belief in community in the workplace as a growing trend, and our partnerships with brands such as Aman and Raffles reflect the role of service in creating unique experiences.

Knowing that the shift towards experience, community and service has driven transformation in retail, we should use these factors when planning destinations. When we launched our Islington Square development, we did so with a free Festival of Culture in order to establish it as a true community-focused project from its inception.

The internet cannot compete when it comes to the social or experiential

Now, it is home to a range of retail and leisure occupiers, including a cooking store and school, a blow-dry bar, a gym, a family members’ club and Odeon’s first Luxe & Dine cinema. Our priority was to curate an experiential destination that caters for the entire community.

Leisure is a key component in this equation, and health and mindfulness are at the forefront of the modern consumer psyche. The inclusion of a high-quality wellness offering further helps turn developments into destinations.

A sense of community through events, innovative and connected machines, unique and experiential classes and additional facilities can turn a trip to the gym into a day out. In the US, we invested in The St James, which features a spa, dining area and daycare on top of all its sporting facilities, because of this understanding of experiential leisure.

Harry Gordon Selfridge once said: “Excite the mind, and the hand will reach for the pocket.” Technology is changing how we interact with the built environment, but bricks-and-mortar premises still have an important role to play, offering brands a place to excite, inform and interact with their customers.

Jonathan Goldstein is chief executive of Cain International