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Retail's Digital Future

Our new report discusses what tech has in store for the retail sector

Technology and property aren’t two sectors you would traditionally place alongside each other. The fast-moving, volatile nature of many tech businesses is a world away from the risk-averse, conservative approach of leading retail property investors.

Yet while the fundamentals of income-producing real estate still drive rent from physical space, the world around them has shifted profoundly towards the digital sphere. With the lines between physical and online retailing merging every day, there’s a pressing need to understand what lies ahead.

In this report, we’ve sought to lift the lid on some of the most influential new trends, with insight from an array of exciting new personalities, inspirational entrepreneurs and well-respected experts. BCSC’s desire to take an active role in supporting the industry in its digital revolution speaks volumes about the value it creates for its members and about the opportunities ahead.

With so many unchartered areas now being explored, the legal implications of new technology will also demand careful scrutiny. Although big data represents the umbrella under which many new tech trends sit, such considerations extend far beyond compliance with the Data Protection Act.

Addleshaw Goddard’s integrated approach to client service means their teams are not just more informed, but better geared to offer advice across the board by collaborating far beyond any one sector niche.

One area where property as an industry has always excelled is its ability to be social and to collaborate, and this is no truer than with the sector’s approach to technology. Crucially, it is also true of how landlords and retailers are now working closer together than ever before.

With its hotbed of tech talent – as showcased throughout this report - Britain has embraced the digital word. And while Asia still leads the world in terms of digital manufacturing, digital infrastructure and tech savvy culture, Europe is catching up fast.

This presents a window of opportunity for Western markets to see what works and adjust ideas for its own specific lifestyle needs. This means that cautious investors can align themselves with businesses that possess a track record, allowing them to innovate without taking on too much risk.

With mobile commerce and purchasing set to soar over the next few years it will have major implications for traditional retailers. Even online retailers will need to adapt or risk seeing their very existence threatened.

As our interviews with Hammerson, intu, NewRiver and Westfield reveal, shopping centres are already adapting. Their desire to enhance the retail experience is in itself nothing new, but the route being taken to get there is changing every day.

Today people seamlessly glide between their physical and virtual worlds. Customers are shopping and browsing and informing themselves on the go and they expect the same from retailers. Now the hunger for new ways to use technology is so strong that people are much more willing to be part of experimental ideas.

As Bristol based CEL proved when it raised £280,000 for its Robox 3D printer on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, imaginations are there to be captured and boundaries are there to be pushed.

The gulf between online and physical retail stores is becoming less acceptable. Luxury goods retailers have been the quickest to embrace new technology with open arms, but it’s those in the middle that need to adopt or die. However, there are fantastic opportunities to use mobile retail technology to expand, cross-sell and open up new revenue streams.

Both real estate and retail need to bring in technology considerations right at the start to be effective and relevant. Part of this is about finding ways to allow and plan for constant change. Strategy is being informed by ever evolving technology as well as by consumer demand. The real estate industry needs to have both tech savvy people and those who deeply understand the customer experience round the table.

Excitement around beacons, wearables, mapping and digital wallets could catapult the shopping experience to exciting new heights. Whether it’s the ability to have a Siri-guided personal shopping experience, where recommended items are ready and waiting when you walk in; or the potential for a 3D printing bakery piping out your children’s favourite cartoon character, customer experience is set to be redefined.

Our report begins by examining eight distinct areas of technological innovation, some of which are already beginning to permeate the retail space. Drawing on a range of sector specific and legal expert opinion, we consider specific opportunities and threats. The challenge of complying with existing and future legislation is considered by Addleshaw Goddard’s experts from a host of legal disciplines.

The final two sections of the report take a step back to consider the strategic implications of these developments, assessing the real estate industry context. We analyse the changing landscape around store strategy and leasing, while BCSC lays out a detailed overview of the current policy landscape.

Crucially, we also hear from four of the sector’s biggest and most influential retail landlords – Hammerson, intu, NewRiver Retail and Westfield – who offer insight into how they themselves are pushing things forward.

However much technology can and will change over the coming years, it’s clear that the role of landlords has already been critically redefined. As facilitators, bringing together retailers, technology companies and investors, their ability to keep a calm head and take a long-term view will be more vital than ever before.

Read the rest of the report here: http://retailsdigitalfuture.com

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