First came the out of town superstores and hypermarkets of the 1960’s, a stylised, Americanised shopping experience. Customers revelled in the modernity of buying everything you needed under one roof. Next followed the retail parks of the 1980’s, a new form of shopping, driven by suburbanisation and the availability of affordable land on town fringes. Families all over the UK ventured out in their cars, seeking shopping and entertainment on a Saturday afternoon.

We’re always thinking about the future and have been contemplating how the retail park’s future will play out. Some say the retail park is dead, but we don’t believe that. However, we do think that retailers who have made the retail park their home might need a little helping hand for a successful future. So, today we’re putting pen to paper to share three thoughts on the future of Retail Parks.


The Retail sector has been through a tough ten years. Hit hard by the recession and currently unsettled by Brexit uncertainty, the latest research from PwC and the Local Data Company indicates that retailers across the UK are closing 15 stores a day. Customer shopping habits have radically changed. Not only does online shopping continue to increase (IMRG stated that the UK online spending rose by 11% to £114bn in 2015) but consumers are more open than ever before as to what they buy online: groceries from Amazon, cars from Dacia - it’s all up for grabs.

Today’s multigenerational consumer base are a complex bunch with differing wants and needs. Millennials want instantly gratifying experiences, urban convenience and omni-channels. Up to 45% of them spend more than an hour a day looking at retail-oriented websites (source: Urban Land Institute). The baby-boomers of the 50s and 60s are after a more blended approach. Finally, we can’t forget the ageing population who still desire bricks and mortar and authentic customer service.

For those retailers who fail to adapt, innovate and respond to changing needs the future is unclear. BHS is a prime example, the once secure, constant face of UK Retail has been erased from the British high street forever. But it’s not all doom and gloom, there is hope.

Retailers like Argos and John Lewis who have continued to adapt and evolve are thriving. We’ve also seen many of the biggest online retailers demonstrating the continuing importance of bricks and mortar by making investments in retail space. From Etsy’s pop-ups to Amazon’s bookstores, it’s clear that physical touch points and authentic real life experiences are still in the mix for big brands’ business. This leads us to thought one.

1) It’s all about experience

On overhearing a lady chatting to her friend on the train, confidently explaining “Waitrose is like my second home” it was immediately clear to me why. As a brand, Waitrose value the quality of experience as much as profit. They continually invest in better experiences for both employees and customers and it shows. As a customer, you experience something special every time you shop – a signature Waitrose moment, the smile and helpful hand of a valued employee, a complimentary coffee every time you visit… no strings attached, just for being you. These seemingly inconsequential moments translate into positive experiences, which when repeated over time, generate brand affinity.

Traditionally, Retail Parks are indistinct, uniform places, one shop lined up after the other. Brands who frequent this environment must work to differentiate and create as memorable experience as you’d receive in any new Westfield or flagship store to survive and flourish in the future.

2) Give customers a reason to visit

It’s now so easy to shop from your sofa, that retailers need to give customers extra reasons to make the journey to their store. The overall experience, right down to the smallest details, needs to be something that you just can’t get from a visit to a website. The trip to store needs to be an outing, an experience - something special - worth investing time and money in.

Consumer needs and desires have changed. Savvier than ever, and not so easily bought, they need to be given a reason to visit. Whether it’s social events and workshops (think craft lessons and cooking workshops), cleverly designed technological solutions to improve the shopping experience, technical guru helpdesks, a new offering (clever brand collaborations with coffee shops or clothing retailers) or in-store only promotions, the sky really is the limit. Even simple solutions like click and collect and free wifi provide a great reason to visit.

IKEA are an example of a brand who have achieved just this. Check out any store on a Saturday morning and you’ll see the flocks of visitors arriving ready for their IKEA experience. The inspiration areas, interactive workshops, specialist help, the meatballs, even the pads and pen and paper, all of these little touches provide a reason to visit. A proactive, savvy brand IKEA have successfully responded to changing lifestyle and consumer shopping behaviours. They’re also investing in our third area of differentiation - alternative formats.

3) Explore alternative formats

IKEA have expanded their format strategy with the additions of pop-up dining rooms around the World (we went along to the Shoreditch location for a look around) and have just opened an urban format in London Stratford’s Westfield. They have identified and successfully responded to urbanisation and they aren’t the only one. Automotive retailers across the industry are investing in new smaller formats in urban locations. Once confined to the industrial estate car retailers have cleverly adapted their offer to sit comfortably in the latest Westfield alongside Topshop or Apple.

Whether it’s a temporary pop-up, specialist boutique, or pick-up centre, these new brand touchpoints not only provide fantastic PR opportunities, they are genuinely useful for the urbanite and even more importantly expose brands to a completely different audience demographic. A great example of this benefit was experienced by Hyundai Rockar. At this year's Retail Design Expo they explained that the average age of a new car buyer is 56 years, whereas the average age of a Rockar customer is just 37.


We believe that with a new retail experience and format strategy, underpinned by a clear understanding of your customer's needs and some innovative, fresh thinking and creativity thrown into the mix, retailers who operate within retail parks can not only maintain relevance to UK consumers but can also achieve great success. We’ve already created new ideas for some of the UK’s most respected brands new retail formats, now perhaps we can help you too?

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