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Retail centres after COVID – designing for confidence

As we emerge from COVID restrictions the bricks and mortar end of the retail sector has two challenges: winning back the loyalty of customers that switched to online shopping at the height of the pandemic; and finding new streams of foot-traffic to make up for lost business.  In the first of four posts about the impact of COVID-19 on shopping centres we discuss operational and building design changes.

Shops were the first public buildings to adapt at the outbreak of the pandemic driven by emergency health and safety regulations.  Many of these counter-COVID measures will become permanent operational changes, including:

  • high visibility of hygiene standards, like hand sanitiser stations throughout a centre and public demonstrations of centre cleaning procedures;
  • minimising shared contact points, like whole-centre delivery/click’n’collect services; and
  • controlling customer interactions with signage and discrete barriers.

Seamlessly designing these counter-COVID measures into existing retail centres will be the key to effective centre operations in the immediate future.  To support leasing activity larger vacant spaces in centres can be reconfigured into central click-and-collect points with fitting rooms so customers can pick up, try on and return clothes all in one go.

Over the longer-term new centres and existing ones planning upgrades will increasingly prioritise healthy building designs and more efficient access points for visitors and suppliers.  There is also the opportunity for centres to capture more of the growing wellness economy.  In one convenient location visit the medical centre, go to the gym, take a class, go to the spa, have a beauty treatment, and eat the latest healthy foods.  Smart designs will complement a centre’s core message to its community that it is safe, stocked in a timely manner and there are multiple opportunities to utilise the centre’s attractions.

Image: Eaton Fair Shopping Centre, captured by Douglas Mark Black