Retail is changing: Westfield will bring that change to Croydon

By - Monday 24th November, 2014

The future is here, and it will change the way we shop forever. Tom Lickley explores what shopping in the new Westfield/Hammerson development could look like and its impact on Croydon

Image by Westfield Group, used with permission.

What’s the common perception of shops on the high street? Decline, empty units and a general degradation in the quality of stores available; previous favourites and town centre stalwarts such as Woolworths and Phones4U replaced by a raft of bookmakers and pound stores. The Saturday shop has been replaced by the lunchtime Google search. But is that the reality?

In Croydon alone, recent months have seen the welcome return of HMV, and a multi-billion pound deal by two of the world’s largest retail groups to bring one of the biggest retail developments in Europe to the heart of the town centre. Further afield, Amazon has decided to buck a considerable trend and open their first physical store in New York City, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move comes as Amazon weighs up the advantages of providing a town centre location to give the company a physical face, and to improve customer service with regards to quicker delivery times and smoothing the process for returning items. Who’s to say by 2019 Amazon won’t be clamouring for retail square footage in Croydon?

Delay is disappointing, but what will the Croydon of 2019 look like?

Whilst many may have been understandably disappointed with the news that building on the Westfield/Hammerson development will not begin until 2016, with an opening date of 2019 at the earliest, we can at least speculate on what Croydon will look like in 2019 and how the retail market will have changed.

Croydon’s Whitgift Centre was an exemplary example of a ‘mixed-use’ development when it opened. Aside from the shops, the centre was the site of a considerable office development, making efficient use of the space and guaranteeing a customer base for the new retail centre during quieter times in the week. Consistent with retail trends around the world, the new Croydon development will retain a mixed-use model – but instead the office aspect will be replaced by residential units.

Today’s shoppers want to be entertained

The economic concept is the same; with hundreds of new residents on the development’s doorstep, the restaurants and leisure facilities on the site will be alive and active on weekday and Sunday evenings. This doesn’t just benefit retailers or those living nearby, of course – any large property manager would wish to encourage diversity within a retail centre in order to attract people – so think art, culture and music.

Today’s shoppers don’t simply want to file through a generic mall – they want to be entertained. Not only does this mean the development will help indirectly employ people, but it should also have the wider impact of improving the cultural scene in Croydon.

In the stores themselves, technology will play an increasingly important role in the way we shop. The traditional ‘shopping experience’ is over; whilst previous online-only retailers may now be looking at physical shops, the way in which goods are bought has been comprehensively changed. By the time the development opens in 2019, we may expect tablet computers to be integrated into stores for online ordering, or to browse for sizes and colours not on display.

Online shopping may allay fears that delivery vehicles will block Croydon’s roads

This will save considerable amounts of space (and money) for the leaseholders, as shops become places simply to try and browse items. This may also ease concerns about how goods will be transported into the shopping centre – if fewer goods are needed, congested access points in Croydon will be less of an issue. Being able to order in store may also reduce the problem of car parks. Whilst Croydon does have good provision of parking there are fears that increased numbers may cause huge problems in the town. However, if ordering in-store becomes the norm, then travelling to the shopping centre via public transport becomes considerably more attractive.

Integrated into this would be increased knowledge of what local shoppers are interested in – shop managers can make more informed choices based on what users in store search for, which will also impact how store assistants can help the buyer – by anticipating the customer’s needs.

Technology integrated in new developments may bring shoppers back into stores

The retail sector is undergoing considerable change, like Croydon itself. The integration of a new, modern retail centre can only benefit the town. Having such a modern shopping centre may be enough to attract people to the town alone – particularly when it compares well to rivals (the likes of Bluewater, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City number among them). But on top of that, technology being integrated into new developments may bring shoppers back into physical stores.

While this will have the obvious effect of boosting job creation in the shops themselves, the centre of Croydon as a whole should receive a boost. Higher footfall through key town centre entrance points – London Road, Lansdowne Road, Exchange Square and South End for instance – may help businesses lined along the route, as well as encouraging new, independent businesses to set up in the cheaper spaces outside of the development itself.

Whilst the brands and entertainment within the development itself will be the star attraction, there is an incredible opportunity – a once-in-a- generation opportunity – for local artists and businesses to feed off a significant boost to the number of people visiting and spending money in the town.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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