Savills and GEM: The only constant in retail is change – structural changes will mean the mix of uses

Sustainable repurposing is about making sure that the places to live and work are future proof, green, offer solid investment opportunities and provide what communities need. The repurposing journey starts with retail. Action is needed now, otherwise a third of retail could be redundant by the end of the decade according to SAVILLS Research. Non-retail uses will play a vital role in the transformation of shopping spaces to a more dynamic, rich, and purposeful mix of uses. The need to rethink how to use our urban spaces does not lie with retail alone – it is a question of rightsizing everything and all stakeholders collaborating with a common purpose. Public and private sector engagement is coming together unlike before.

Sustainability must be at the heart of repurposing if we really want to create places that meet the future needs. Challenges around viability remain, but increasingly are being navigated through new funding mechanisms, creative uses, and partnerships. Investors, stakeholders, and consumers focus even more on ESG, sustainability and social returns. According to SAVILLS the best retail investments in the future will be those that are connected to their places, are environmentally and economically sustainable, and that have secure income from diverse occupants.

Retail restructuring was already advancing before corona. The inevitable change progressed but was ignored or underestimated. An accelerated evolution of retail and a shift in consumer behavior faced us in 2020. Retail repurposing reimagines how we use our towns and shopping centres to live, work, play and thrive. According to SAVILLS Research retail needs to be rightsized, not replaced. Evolved, not eliminated. Retail is not dead but boring retail is dead. Retail is at a turning point where great challenges meet opportunities. Dynamic retail will survive.

Hybrid spaces benefit all uses. It is about creating the right blend of interconnected hybrid spaces that are appropriate for that place. This means more than just replacing one use with another. The megatrends of urbanization, climate change, population ageing, and rapid technological development have contributed to hybrid spaces becoming more common. In Finland, several large hybrid projects have been completed or are currently under way where retail premises, offices, living space and different private and public services join in a coherent city space. Shopping centres will be consumer hubs that are more than just shopping, but instead meet other social and civic needs, such as health, education, and wellbeing.

City planning supports the objective of a varied and vibrant city structure that features city centres with service networks. The Building as a Service concept will slowly replace the conventional building-centric model, where the value is based on the building and its durability and usability. As working life, the use of workspaces and even living habits and types of housing change, the change in city structure is accelerated and requires a new sort of thinking, sustainable repurposing, sustainable master planning, and sustainable funding and policy.

More in detail information: SAVILLS RE: IMAGINING RETAIL Issue #2 | Winter 2020/21


Irma Jokinen, researcher