By Ian Shimmin | 13 Sep 2016

The Australian shopping centre industry is, in many ways, a world leader. Our shopping centres are authentic and strong. Across the country we see highly productive, actively managed businesses constantly changing and improving to meet consumers’ and retailers’ needs alike.

In the retail industry, perhaps more than many other industries, there is a relentless need for innovation and improvement. New sources of revenue, new ways to add value, and cost reduction in a low growth environment are just a handful of the challenges Australian shopping centres have to handle. New perspectives, ideas and experiences are key to tackling these challenges.

We can pick up new ideas, trends and experiences from all over the world, but North America is a particularly bountiful source of valuable insights. Given Australia’s retail strength, learnings from overseas tend to be subtle but extremely useful.

Here we highlight five of the key areas of interest to retail property professionals about which the North American experience provides useful insights.

In North America a strong service culture is readily apparent, and staff make it their business to know and provide useful advice.

We are starting to see service and product knowledge elevated in Australia. This has certainly been a training focus at David Jones, for example, but, with the exception of JB HiFi and Apple, we still have a long long way to go. In North America a strong service culture is readily apparent, and staff make it their business to know and provide useful advice. It helps to be incentivised too!

In relation to ambience it is clear that one size does not fit all, and unique environments that trigger our senses and elicit positive emotions are necessary for centres of all types that strive for sustainable points of difference. We see many examples in North America, and the ones that stand out use landscaping, art and music really effectively, or alternately they let the retailers do the talking, albeit within a well-conceived retail plan.

We’ve already seen the success of the shared economy with businesses such as Uber and Air BnB flourishing over the last few years. This is also trending in retail and is particularly apparent in the online environment with marketplaces such as Etsy and eBay becoming commonplace.

The Public Factory in Soho purports to be the world’s first co-retailing concept. Their business model gives emerging brands access to a premium retail location without the normal fixed costs and commitments required of a mainstream retail environment.

Emerging artists and brands can use display and studio space at a relatively low cost, with or without staff support, providing a unique shop-within-a shop concept, and a great training ground for the next generation of retailers. It seems to us that the overall rent per sq.m may be quite attractive for the property owner.

Shopping centres continue to evolve into multi-dimensional places for a very broad range of activities and purposes.

Shopping centres continue to evolve into multi-dimensional places for a very broad range of activities and purposes. Emerging technologies are to some extent forcing a change, but at the same time providing opportunities that we haven’t had the need to consider before.

Not only are we seeing a major trend towards events, entertainment, dining out, and many other ‘social’ drivers of visitation, but new sources of income, as well as was to reduce costs, are on trial. Look out for the emergence of ‘Bots’…

The Australian retail scene is familiar with mixed-use property developments that are part retail, part residential and sometimes part commercial, and this form of development is increasingly becoming the norm particularly in established urban areas where large land areas are scarce.

An interesting example is Toronto, where there is a growing trend for neighbourhood scale mixed-use developments in the suburbs.

Australian centres can also take away learnings from North America’s large scale mixed-use developments. A few prime examples of these are:

  • The BelleVue Collection, a sophisticated destination for shopping, dining, work & leisure, nightlife and luxury hotels in Seattle
  • Westfield Century City, which will feature various retail uses, boutiques, restaurants, cafés, event, cinema and entertainment spaces, five-star customer amenities, and also innovative new technologies.
  • Macerich’s Tysons Corner Centre, which houses over 200,000 sq. m of retail space, including a number of department stores, an elevated landscaped plaza area, rooftop terraces, numerous restaurants, eateries and entertainment attractions and events, a Hyatt Regency, apartments and a Tysons Office Tower. It is a great international case study.


These are of course, just the headlines. There is much more to learn from American shopping centres, and the devil is in the detail…

Urbis will be exploring North America during its latest International Retail Study Tour in September. Participants will experience the latest trends in retail from six cities in the USA and Canada, and through the eyes of people operating in different disciplines within the industry.

We’ll see a number of development projects, some recently completed and some under construction: after many years of zero development activity in major US malls, this will be an eye opener, especiallyTysons Corner, the recently opened Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek, the new Nordstom store in Toronto’s Eaton Centre, and of course the new Westfield World Trade Centre in New York.