The shop of the future
Posted by Emma Barker on August 14, 2012
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On my drive home the other day I chanced upon a talk on Radio 4’s Four Thought: architect Ali Mangera on ‘The Future of Shopping’. Given the closely-connected futures of the urban environment and shopping behaviour this made for some interesting listening.
In 2010 Mangera’s firm won a competition to design a new Tesco store in Nottingham. Identifying shopping not just as a function, but an experience, they started to draw inspiration from a number of other experiential environments. They looked at customer behaviour in museums and airports. They looked to the barrios of Spain, in which shopping is more intimate and the retailer and customer become lifelong friends. They looked to the likes of Ronnie Barker’s Arkwright in Open All Hours, serving one customer at a time, while the others chatted about so-and-so’s wayward daughter and the price of ham.
As it stands, today’s supermarket is just a large, hermetically-sealed box. Goods go in one end and are dispatched at the other. What it’s lacking in windows it makes up for in parking, and how! But is parking-a-plenty sufficient for today’s consumer? Ali Mangera and his team didn’t think so.
Consider your most recent trip abroad – what do you remember most? A vibrant Moroccan souk or buzzing bazaar? Or perhaps the local specialties of a French farmers’ market or Thai floating market? Those memories that stick with you are unlikely to be of the nearby hypermarket or shopping mall.
With their Tesco store design Ali and his team wanted to find a way of recreating the hustle and bustle of a market, whilst giving the supermarket what it wanted – a box. So they placed the box in the middle of the space, creating a hive of activity – piazzas, gardens, artists’ workshops etc. – around it. They reasoned that with shopping perfectly simple (and often easier) from home, customers need a reason to go out. And with the gradual transformation of shopping from necessity to leisure pursuit already underway, the idea of the supermarket as a social and entertainments hub made perfect sense. After all, those visitors to Arkwright’s store were arguably as much there for the gossip as they were for their fruit and veg.
In the end, the Tesco Nottingham project was canned and Mangera’s ground-breaking design never saw the light of day. But that’s not to say that it hasn’t provided an insight into what might be.
As internet retail expands, the ‘box’ is losing its value. In fact, it makes more sense to dedicate the space to stock for home deliveries, with fresh goods going direct to the consumer from the supplier, thus cutting down on energy and transportation costs. Of those parts that aren’t used for distribution, amongst other things:
- The roof could play host to a rainwater-fed garden or allotment, the fruits of which are sold in the market place
- With parking less of a concern, we could witness a rise in urban agriculture, with vertical, climate-controlled farms taking over old high-rise car parks
- Tesco’s digital points of sale are likely to become a more common sight
- Cameras could be used to monitor customer response to shelving and displays, with robotics reorganising the store according to this interaction
- New materials could be introduced e.g. NASA-invented nanogel as a glass replacement (lets in light, but not heat in)
Of course, the foods we consume will also change over time, with bio-engineering and digital printing leading to new types of food and food tastes, but it’s the store itself that’s of interest here.
As Ali Mangera observed, retailers and consumers have yet to understand the game-changing impact of digital retail on the design and development of physical space and the redundancy that almost certainly will lead to in terms of the traditional shop. In March 2012, Deloitte reported that up to 40% of high street shops could close over the next five years. In their place will be a high street lined with coffee shops and internet kiosks, as the boundaries between physical and virtual space become blurred.
The big question for TVE and our clients is what brands will need to do to adapt to this changing environment. How do the laws of competition differ on the digital shelf? As shopping centres become more general hubs of activity, what will be the opportunities for brand extension and diversification? With Tesco’s virtual fridges we’re already starting to see fairly significant changes in-store – we just need to keep our eyes and ears open to help keep our clients ahead of the game.