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Placemaking Trends: The experts’ assessments

The Covid-19 pandemic brought massive changes to the entire retail real estate and placemaking industry. A lot of negative developments, but also a number of opportunities and possibilities for the future. We asked the following industry experts to share their opinion on the matter.

Silvio Kirchmair

CEO of umdasch The Store Makers and Member of the ACROSS Advisory Board

Credit: umdasch

IoT furniture, cloud services, sensor technology etc.

“More dramatically than ever before, the pandemic is making us aware of the extent to which human encounters and social meeting places are missing from our lives. This presents a huge opportunity for bricks-and-mortar retailing to satisfy the longing for personal communication and real experiences in the post-Corona era. To do so it will require multifunctional places filled with pulsating social life. Shopping, working and living are moving closer together or becoming fused in ‘shared spaces’ concepts. Covid is a trend accelerator. Developments that would have taken several years are now gaining full momentum in a very short time. First and foremost, digitalization: shops without digital added value are becoming increasingly outdated. The intelligent interconnection of online and offline worlds is the order of the day for retailers. With the support of digital solutions, the aim is to transfer the convenience that consumers have come to appreciate online to the POS. IoT furniture, cloud services and sensor technology play a central role here. Above all, the automation of processes–for example through electronic shelf labelling–gives staff in the store more time and leisure for advice and sales. 

The EU’s Green Deal and the G7 Fashion Pact, in which the world’s leading fashion and textile companies commit to common sustainability goals, make it clear: sustainability is a real game changer–especially for the retail industry. For the umdasch Store Makers it is an honor and a distinction to be the only shopfitting company to date to form part of the prestigious Fashion Pact. umdasch is pursuing strategic sustainability projects intensively and aims to be CO2 neutral at its locations from 2030. We are also preparing for the increasing demand for green shopfitting solutions.”

Krzysztof Poznański

Managing Director of Polish Council of Shopping Centres (PRCH)

Credit: PRCH

Changes in the tenant-mix

“The pandemic will not eliminate the shopping center format, but it will certainly change it. Each increase in footfall following the lifting of lockdown restrictions shows that customers are longing for the traditional shopping experience, walking between shelves, trying on clothing, talking to an advisor. Modern places of retail have and will continue to have important social functions. In smaller destinations, they often have a close relationship with local communities and have become key centers of social life, culture or interesting educational experiences for entire families. In the coming months, after the lockdown is lifted, shopping venues will have to react flexibly and adapt their offering to new customer habits and expectations especially with regard to the development of digital solutions. 

The pandemic will certainly force changes in the tenant-mix. Retail spaces will be enriched with innovative showrooms, original food service concepts or special environmentally friendly premises. The evolution in retail has accelerated towards omnichannel selling. Shopping centers will become an important link in the technological change, increasingly often entering into cooperation with marketplace partners and developing click & collect services or pop-up stores. However, they will certainly remain that vital link in reaching the consumer, as e-commerce cannot replace a visit to the shop, cannot create an ambiance and experience involving the senses, which would be as strong an incentive to buy as traditional sales. Omnichannel is, and will continue to be, the optimal solution to meet the needs of different customer groups–old and young alike. The experience of many countries shows that during the period of loosening the epidemic restrictions, the public prefers physical activity, face-to-face contacts, which results in less interest in digital experiences. It is possible that the pandemic will reinforce the need for personal experience and shopping centers will become even more popular leisure destinations.”

Joanna Fisher

CEO ECE Marketplaces and Member of the ACROSS Advisory Board

Credit: ECE

Fulfilling the customers’ wishes ever again

“Shopping centers will continue to be vibrant mixed-used marketplaces–brick-and-mortar retail has a big significance and will continue to do so in the future, particularly at high-quality locations. Just remember how quick visitors have returned to shops and centers last summer being able and happy to have a real shopping experience with the shops and shopping centers being open again. At the same time, there is no doubt that retail must–and will–continue to proceed on its path of change and constant development: a transformation that has been going on for quite a while already and that was accelerated and intensified by the effects of the pandemic. 

The transformation and enhancement of retail and shopping places refers to two main strategic approaches: firstly, the further expansion of connected commerce services by realizing and expanding omnichannel platforms such as ECE’s Digital Mall and the stronger and more intense interconnection of online and offline offerings; and secondly, the further development of retail and shopping places to urban marketplaces and vivid shopping and entertainment places for people, including all-new concepts, offerings and usages–from modern F&B concepts to leisure entertainment offerings, from complementary services from areas such as beauty, health, and sports to additional hotels or residential real estate. All these changes aim at one target: to fulfill the customers’ wishes ever again. And we must not forget: to be really successful it is of great importance for all stakeholders–investors, retailers, and operators–to continue their close cooperation in partnership and on a long-term basis by finding smart solutions that help to strongly and sustainably push the strategic approaches. Hence, there are challenges to be solved in retail–but we see them as an opportunity to move the retail industry forward and make it fit for the future.”

Ján Harom

Property Director Nivy Station at HB Reavis

Credit: HB Reavis

Mixed-use lifestyle centers as the future of retail

“As in other areas, flexibility is the key word for the future of retail. Regarding today’s highly-fluid social, economic and health environment, the ability to predict and manage changing demands has never been more important. The first step in post-Covid retail we see is gaining back customers’ trust. It is necessary to offer a healthy and safe environment with an alignment of the in-store and online experience. For future growth, it’s data driven innovations followed by sophisticated analyses to reconnect with customers.

At HB Reavis, we think more broadly in terms of the retail experience, and we see consumers being more likely to perceive shopping as an event or an experience. Therefore, mixed-use lifestyle centers are the future of retail, especially well-located properties because of a healthy demand for them. When they’re connected to other services, amenities and experiences that serve the community, you’ve already won. We designed Nivy Station as a retail destination where people come to enjoy their moments–whether it’s a coffee on a break, a business lunch or just spending leisure time. Neighboring the historical city center of Bratislava, Nivy Station combines many concepts into one functional unit–a stylish marketplace with seasonal and local products connected with a green roof for active rest and relaxation, a convenient bus station and traffic of over 55,000 people a day. We believe it is a game changer for the retail market in the whole region.”

Christian Mikunda

Managing Director at CommEnt Mikunda-Schulz KG

Credit: David Saller

Malls as homes away from home

“Hopefully, our shopping centers will remain open, but the noticeable reluctance of customers is putting a strain on stationary retail trade. Some already think that the age of consumerism is over, that our closets are full and budgets are tight anyway. But malls are not just places of blind consumption, as some critics believe, they are also a tertiary kind of places–homes away from home–where customers feel at home, just like at their actual homes and workplaces. Customers visit malls not only to buy something quickly, but also to take in some of the atmosphere there. Malls in the post-pandemic era therefore increasingly need sensory chill-out zones, surprising pop-up stores and plenty of emotion and identity. But Corona has also a lasting impact on actual shopping behavior. Online retail has reared its head. In contrast, malls actually have one big advantage: they have floor space. Showrooming was long considered the enemy of brick-and-mortar retail, but now it’s clear: malls must become buddies for consumers. Mini brand-lands can give brands a dramaturgically designed appearance and become ground control for online retail, which is floating somewhere in the void.

What also counts in this context is lightning-fast orientation through so-called entrance maps–sensually designed plans that turn malls into super promenades and enable fast and at the same time pleasurable browsing and finding. Most importantly, consumers need to get used to malls again. After all, many young people are also now saying: Netflix is almost better than cinema. But in the cinema, you can cuddle inconspicuously during the movie. Similarly, malls need to show that goods are also cultural assets, that buying is also entertainment, and that this is best done at an exhilarating place–as a gift for everyone.”

Thomas Reichenauer

Co-Founder & Managing Director of ROS Outlet Shopping and Member of the ACROSS Advisory Board

Credit: ROS Outlet Shopping

“Revenge shopping” is coming soon

“The pandemic situation is still serious, but there is hope that we will manage to come back to the ‘new normal’ in Central Europe by autumn and that further retail relaxations will soon follow. ROS Retail Outlet Shopping focuses on trading up, a closer brand partner and community cooperation, digital transformation as well as preparing for ‘revenge shopping’. The idea of ‘revenge shopping’ has already been proven true in China, where stores and malls have been reopened for months. The recent Manic Monday in the UK saw the unleashed demand for fashion and luxury goods as the lockdown entered a less restrictive phase and even US department stores had a sales increase driven by the first round of stimulus checks in January this year.

Outlet villages will have a clear advantage post-pandemic due to their concept: mainly open-air shopping, shopping experience, value for money and suburban locations. Incorporating the latest trends and changes in shopping behavior in our managed outlets centers, they will be back stronger, driven by innovative glocal marketing. Flexibility and timing—to be at the right time at the right place with the right message—are crucial. Make it unique, make it special. The pandemic is teaching us new lessons every day, but it also gives us opportunities. Let’s grab them!”

Thierry Cahierre

Head of Global Asset and Development Management at Redevco

Credit: Redevco

Elevating urban areas

“We are currently faced with an oversupply in retail. When I look at this, I see opportunities to create new, vibrant, multi-purpose locations that will help to elevate urban areas. Cities are being transformed at their core, becoming more digital and more sustainable, reinforced by people’s changing needs, habits, and priorities, as well as changing demographics. Covid-19 is clearly accelerating change and uncovers the growing liquidity mismatch between mono-purpose retail properties and highly mobile shoppers.

Acceleration is good and the best way to get out of a crisis is to drive through it. As a conventional industry real estate is characterized by its relatively slow pace of change, dealing with old fashioned systems and old ways of thinking. Now, thanks to the crisis, change is afoot, and the sense of urgency has been brought into greater focus. As landlords, we need to get much closer to consumers to capture volatile income streams and avoid diminishing values for assets locked into fixed locations, leases, and themes. At Redevco we look at the current retail properties through different lenses, like liveability, sustainability, and mobility, and harness our retail real estate experience to create future-proof destinations in the urban realm where people like to live work and play. Repurposing retail needs to be done well, in such a way that it contributes to a more sustainable future of cities, that in itself must positively contribute to the health and well-being of people and the planet. We can help cities become healthy and vibrant environments for its citizens and visitors.”

Vivienne King

Board Director of Revo

Credit: Revo

Forward-thinking management

“Whilst these are challenging times for retail, there’s also an opportunity for innovation that shouldn’t be wasted. With a supportive policy environment, physical retail in the UK has the energy and imagination to offer newly exciting destinations. The purpose of space is to serve a need; as need changes, space pivots. Online has ballooned and the challenge for bricks and mortar is to be better at providing an experience that isn’t available from the sofa, serving as a neighborhood hub to gather and interact, safely. This will include short term, ‘meanwhile’ space providing entrepreneurs with low-risk exposure and consumers with an emotional connection that differentiates itself. Longer term, retail space is being creatively reimagined to serve communities, blending workspace, leisure and residential, alongside retail.

Covid-19 has been a catalyst for localism. This shift should see owners, local authorities and retailers co-creating energetic blended environments offering lifestyle choices on the doorstep, in the city or at home. Different approaches to the curation of space is where inventive courses, like Revo’s Diploma in Retail and Leisure Place Management run by UK’s Solent University, are valuable to bring forward commercial managers who can pivot between strategy, delivery, and community. These forward-thinking managers will deliver increasingly into a world of valuation models with total occupancy cost as the basis of occupation and where the interrelationship of social and environmental sustainability with financial value is increasingly dominant. As UK retail reopens, innovative bricks and mortar retail will seize the day and anchor its foothold in the social and economic success of our communities, for the long term. “

Patrick van Dooyeweert

Chief Investment Officer/Chief Development Officer at Multi Corporation and Member of the ACROSS Advisory Board

Credit: Multi Corporation

Encouraging survey results

“At Multi, one of the largest retail asset management companies in Europe, we anticipate future opportunities in the retail and commercial real estate sectors by looking to lessons learnt over the last 18-months, including those from on-the-ground operations, trends in sales and footfall, and expertise from other countries where restrictions have lifted due to the easing of the health crisis. We believe that there will continue to be appetite for brick-and-mortar retail as customers have quickly returned to daily life and shopping centers with health and safety rules in place. This aligns with findings from our latest pan-European survey, where 72% of visitors stated that they desire more offline solutions to spend their valuable time, and shopping centers are an excellent place to do this. Recent data and first-hand experience showed us that when visitors returned to malls, spending due to pent-up demand resulted in larger than average basket sizes, indicating that purpose-driven shopping for brick-and-mortar retail has increased. 

To provide a seamless experience for customers and to encourage them to return, retailers in the future should look to mixed-use real estate. It has proven itself as a future proof asset class that can enhance purpose-driven spending through either social and exciting experiential real estate, or convenience-anchored assets for daily goods and services for communities. As a strategy, this involves creating well-designed and vibrant environments with retail, dining, and entertainment, and a compelling mix of different functions such as co-living, co-working, facilities for health, wellness and community, and other amenities together. “

Alex Morar

CEO of NEPI Rockcastle

Credit: Nepi Rockcastle

No “one size fits all, all the time” strategy

“NEPI Rockcastle, the premier owner and operator of shopping centers in Central and Eastern Europe, with 54 retail properties in nine countries, went through the most challenging period in its history in 2020. The past year confirmed the robustness of our business model, its resilience and flexibility in highly demanding circumstances. From our perspective, the retail real estate continues to prove itself a strong, well-positioned, well-equipped, and long-term credible business. We will probably never go back to the way things were, but circumstances and operations continuously evolve and there is not a ‘one size fits all, all the time’ strategy that we can apply; we need to adapt ourselves to new challenges and business models. We need to work together to provide the best retail experience for our customers and partners. Examples include organizing cultural and technology events, exhibitions, loyalty programs and pop-up stores for local designers and artisans. Also, we have implemented new customer services, such as call and collect, click and collect, gift wrapping and deliveries.

Furthermore, landlords need to make sure shopping centers are attractive, well located and that the entire tenant mix is advertised. By integrating the various retailers’ concepts into digital advertising, we can ensure we are where the customers are searching. We need to have a joint strategy to approach this omnichannel experience. In 2021 we are focusing on re-stabilizing the retail ecosystem and offering our clients a refreshed and safe shopping and entertainment experience at our shopping centers. We will continue to deliver on our committed developments and seek new investment opportunities. NEPI Rockcastle is in a strong financial position and remains a leader in the CEE in terms of retail and development.”

Steffen Hofmann

Managing Partner of iMallinvest Europe GmbH

Credit: iMallinvest Europe GmbH

Valueable data and deeper understanding of the costumer

“For real estate in the mid-run, digitalization trends in retail will prove a real blessing in disguise. It has been said that nothing stirs innovation like a global stress test. For brick-and-mortar retailers the outbreak of Covid-19, as painful as it is right now, has also enforced adaptive, more customer-centric processes that will ultimately accelerate industry change for the better. The business of retailing is being re-imagined and transformed. The end result will be a seamless symbiosis of physical retail spaces and digital online platforms. What is new is that their inevitable connectivity will now happen much faster than even the bravest futurists would have anticipated a couple of years ago. 

As a consequence of rapid conceptual change, which will also spawn new real estate features, innovative business models will be applied, and more diversified user groups will help to turn traditional shopping locations into vivid community hubs. Stores and shops–whilst still being used for the sale of goods and products–will become interactive brand showrooms with swift distribution center character. Those retailers who already offered click & meet, click & collect or even sheer delivery services to their customers during the bad time of the pandemic, have gained important insights in their most loyal customer groups and accessed precious consumer data which so far was only accessible to some market leading online-platforms. This valuable data set and a deeper understanding of the consumer will not only encourage a more personalized shopping experience, but likewise facilitate the development of more suitable products, more frequent customer interaction, enhanced retail services and overall improved sales figures.”


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