Retail. Reset & decentralise?

In retailing terms, 2020 will go down as the year the high-street Jenga tower finally collapsed, so what now?

We’ve all encountered a persistent debate about the future of physical retailing. “It’s dead, long live Amazon” they cry. But it’s not dead, just like print media, it’s never really dead, but it does need to press the reset button. If we try and build back with more of the same we’ll end up living in a world owned by Mike Ashley, rummaging in bargain bins for cheap sports fashion, white-labelled with nostalgic brands that no longer stand for anything.

Luckily there’s quite a lot of positive change already out there. Take container park concept BOXPARK for example. You could say it’s the Bitcoin of retailers, well probably more like the Ethereum blockchain actually (I probably just slipped that in for my SEO, but I think it stands up). The container park model shifts the retail opportunity away from prohibitively expensive units and long leases. Effectively a ‘decentralised’ landlord that acts as a conduit for innovation, start-ups and pop-up ideas to find their feet. Then grows its own value as the associated businesses mature.

The genius of BOXPARK is simplicity. Empower young people and they’ll launch exciting, on-trend businesses that, well, young people like. And the great thing about young people is that they get older and their income grows-up with them. Get in early and you too could be a Bitcoin millionaire (nicely rounded off Al, pat on the back).

But it’s even better than that. BOXPARK, now in Shoreditch, Croydon and Wembley with more to come, isn’t just shopping. The strapline says it all. Eat. Play. Drink. It’s a mixed-use offer that guarantees relevant experiences for all times of day and night. How is that different from a shopping centre or a high street? BOXPARK is a brand that promises to meet your expectations. And the very nature of shorter leases and lower rents mean that BOXPARK can easily refresh the offer and adapt to consumer trends in a way that traditional retail destinations can only dream of.

But the big boys are fighting back too. Major developments like Elephant Park or Deptford Landings are completely new neighbourhoods that actively seek to elevate the spirit of the existing community, putting creative start-ups and local favourites at the heart of the offer. If container park concepts are decentralised, these guys are a reset. Much more than a retail destination, these developments are a way of life. Luxury apartments, cafe culture, bars, restaurants, new parklands, hundreds of trees, co-working spaces, Time Out Markets, you name it, it’s built-in. How this concept adapts to future trends remains to be seen, but for now, they too are guaranteeing the quality of experience and leaving existing high streets and shopping centres behind.

These are London centric observations, but the lesson for everyone is that …if you build it (well), they will come. If high streets and shopping centres choose to act like authentic brands they can be reset and if they can’t, innovative landlords can decentralise the model. And the offer doesn’t have to be led by big names, investors are out there, they just need to hear an amazingly brilliant idea and even more brilliant business plan.

In fantasy tomorrow, business rates are completely reimagined, big landlords are super flexible and innovative retailers thrive. But even if none of that happens, it’s our responsibility to be imaginative and work our socks off to save the world from Sports Direct. I mean it’s all good and well when you need a cheap cricket bat, but did you know their £3 cricket balls have concrete in the middle? No. Neither did I. But then I tried to catch one and cracked a bone.

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