Office development and retail will continue to learn from one another

20th September 2018

Writing in Property Week, Sheppard Robson partner Claire Haywood discusses the often mutually supportive relationship between retail and office development.

Both how we shop and the way we work are undergoing significant shifts; the two sectors are being tested by an influx of new ideas that has, in turn, led to changes in property strategy. But with these two sectors – particularly in city centre development – often forming a symbiotic relationship, what can one learn from the changes in the other’s industry?

There is increasingly a push to create office developments that, far from being commercial enclaves, feel more like integral parts of the city. The buzzwords “creating a sense of place” are high on the agenda. This elusive quality can be difficult to define but often revolves around a mix of uses that promote an evening and weekend economy.

To achieve this, what can offices learn from changes in retail? Large retail developments, under threat from online shopping, have upped their food and beverage offers to attract and retain shoppers, but are also incorporating inventive leisure uses such as event spaces, outdoor cinemas and ice rinks. Offices might well look to go the same way, replacing a single café with food market and incorporating a more sophisticated range of leisure and cultural activities. The ability to provide unique experiences seems to be an increasingly important factor.

This trend towards the experiential can be a good thing for offices, with a greater of activities animating a building’s arrival experience and creating more desirable workplaces. It is also good for cities, with a new brand of leisure-driven retail enlivening dead pockets within our city centres.

But it’s a two-way street and retail, increasingly under pressure to reinvent itself, also has plenty to learn from the radical ideas that have recently been adopted by office design. The office market has undergone shifts in flexibility, with the adaptable world of co-working offering something completely different to long-term, fixed leases, with a focus on wellness.

In comparison, retail is fast-paced in terms of products but its property is traditionally very static by comparison. With consumerism – particularly fashion – transitory by nature wouldn’t the inherent flexibility of co-working be relevant? More space in our retail developments could be given over to a new type of hyper-adaptable space, which changes weekly or monthly. This would be positioned alongside larger fixed spaces, allowing more independent retailers and start-ups to sit next to more established brands.

Retail, office and leisure uses are mutually supportive creating ‘critical mass’ for new developments, with the borrowing of ideas from one another leading to innovative solutions that could add vitality to all three sectors, as well as our cities.

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