The lockdown is a year old this week and, while there are many headline shifts in consumer behaviour that retailers need to be aware of, there have also been a raft of more subtle ones that are also going to impact the industry.
Ahead of the reopening of non-essential retail next month, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield unveils new research on the impact of the pandemic on the future of retail as it releases ‘Westfield How We Shop: What’s Changed’.
The report assesses how five key retail trends uncovered in 2020 have developed in the last 12 months, and with community emerging as a top priority, the findings suggest that locally morphed experiences will allow physical retail to thrive in 2021 and beyond.
The study, which polled 2,000 UK consumers and 500 UK retailers, examines how five major retail trends – Anti-Prescription, Upside-Down Retail, Self-Sustaining Stores, Retail Surgery and Locally-Morphed – have been reshaped as individuals and businesses shift their mindsets and values as they re-consider what is important to them. So what did it find?
As the population has been forced to reduce their travel footprint, more than half of Brits (52%) are shopping more locally than last year, and what is interesting is the impact this has had on their behaviour, with 49% of consumers wanting to buy locally sourced products. In line with this, 96% of the UK’s biggest retailers are considering introducing community initiatives in 2021, a vast shift from 2020. This is welcome news, with three quarters of Brits (74%) expecting to see retailers adapt to their local surroundings as they re-open.
Westfield identified Upside-Down Retail – in other words, experience-led stores – as a key trend in 2020, identifying the ‘experience tipping point’ as 2025. This is the point at which retailers allocate more square meterage to experiences over products. Long has experience retail been identified as unlocking the potential for the future of physical retail, and this has only been accelerated by the impact of Covid-19. We will start to see more concepts based fully on experience emerging such as Situ Live, a fully immersive product experience which combines the digital and physical aspects of shopping, which launches at Westfield London alter this year. As consumers look to health services and experiences, over half (52%) expressed they now crave health services or experiences in a post-pandemic world, up 20% from last year’s report.
Sustainability continues to be an ongoing focus for shoppers and retailers alike. The new report finds that nearly two thirds of UK shoppers (57%) are going to be more mindful of their online purchases due to the distribution and packaging impact on the environment. Brits are even more interested in the rental retail trend than last year. Up seven percent from 2020, 84% of UK consumers are interested in renting home products in 2021, showing a real appetite for leasing over owning. The percentage that will look to rent this year, as a more sustainable way to shop, have expanded their horizons beyond just fashion, revealing their top 10 most desired rental products:
- Fitness equipment (39% – up from 37% in 2020)
- Spaces to spend time with friends and family (38% – up from 23% in 2020)
- Technology (35% – down from 42% in 2020)
- Space to work (32% – new for 2021)
- Toys and games (29% – up from 18% in 2020)
- Garden equipment (28% – down from 32% in 2020)
- Clothes (27% – up from 22% in 2020)
- Beauty (24% – up from 12% in 2020)
- Furniture (23% – up from 19% in 2020)
- Fashion Accessories (23% – up from 18% in 2020)
Anti-Prescription was identified as a big retail trend in 2020, as 56% of consumers revealed that they were becoming frustrated by inaccurate recommendations served to them when shopping online, and in turn were craving free range browsing and impulse shopping. In contrast 38% of customers claimed the same frustration in 2021 as they adapted to the e-commerce experience and retailers’ evolved online offerings.
In keeping with this changed behaviour, Digital Bricks stores – those that converge the online and offline experience – are more in demand than ever, with a fifth of shoppers looking for in-store tech such as augmented reality to try on clothes when they return to the shops. Retailers are also reacting with 9 in 10 prioritising making stores more automated. Over a third (37%) are aiming to make their stores contactless in the next 18 months, with social distancing and a new focus on health and safety acting as a catalyst.
It was predicted that the retail surgery market, dedicated to prescribing products for specific personal needs, could be worth up to £40bn per month in the UK alone in 2020. Moving into 2021, our new research revealed that nearly half of all millennials (49%) would be willing to share their DNA for a better shopping experience (11% above the national average). The Plasma Donor centre and the Vaccination centre which both recently launched at Westfield Stratford City illustrates this change of use of shopping destination spaces which also act as key community hubs. The impact of Covid-19 has shown up strongly in this year’s research too with nearly four fifths (78%) of consumers now interested in health experiences and innovations in-store, up by 20% from last year.
Scott Parsons, UK Chief Operating Officer for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, comments: “The past year has changed retail as we know it, and as we look to the future of shopping and leisure destinations, the How We Shop Report highlight’s the great opportunities that will emerge. Our research shows the potential rise of community integration with 96% of retailers considering introducing community initiatives in the next 18 months, whilst the focus the floorspace ratio of experience to product tipping point has been accelerated 3 years to 2022. Now, more than ever, Briton’s crave physical experiences, albeit in a new and different way, and I am confident that our London centres will re-emerge stronger than ever.”