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Comment: Excess space in-store creates opportunities says Nigel Collett of RPA: Group

Retailer Theo Paphitis was recently quoted as saying “It really does feel like retail as we know it is creeping closer and closer towards the precipice”. There is no doubt that big changes are afoot and retailers need to adapt in order to prevent themselves from toppling over the edge.

Customers have come to expect more from their retail experience than just the exchange of goods for cash.  They can easily undertake this sort of transaction online, so if they have taken the time to venture into a store, they want to be entertained, engaged with, and to be made to feel part of a community.

With the interaction between retailer and customer becoming more personal, and technological advancements meaning that stores are becoming more like showrooms, stores no longer need to tout everything they offer. Gone therefore is the need for gigantic retail spaces in which to display lots of merchandise. With many retailers still beholden to long term rentals or not wishing to give up prime locations, what does this mean for all the resulting surplus space?

The good news is that excess space can be turned into a great opportunity for retailers. Increasingly, we are seeing some of this being used to accommodate pop-ups. This is a perfect example of a symbiotic relationship, in that the host retailer benefits from extra capital, the pop-up retailers are provided with a low risk platform to trial their brand to a relevant target market, and customers are offered a more varied environment to engage with.

We are also seeing space used for integration of brands, such as Sainsbury’s incorporating Argos concessions in its stores, which in turn drives footfall and looks to transform the grocer into more of a department store. Not to be left behind, we are also seeing some department stores adapt to new demands and expectations, such as Selfridges incorporating a “silence room”, the perfect antidote to a busy and often overwhelming retail environment.

Utilising space to incorporate coffee shops and restaurants also increases customer dwell time. Book shops have been successfully doing this for years.

The House of Dunhill was an early pioneer of offering some “non-retail” space to add value. We worked with its internal team to develop the retail and club concept in their Mayfair flagship, which gives members access to a suite of facilities including a historic humidor, traditional gentleman’s grooming salon, private club rooms, dining and a private cinema.

Ultimately, whether extra retail space is utilised for pop-ups, hospitality and leisure space, or as a social “hub”, it is essential that it both compliments and reinforces the brand ethos of the retailer that offers it.

Nigel Collett is CEO of RPA: Group

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