Rise of online shopping prompting innovative response from retail landlords
The world's first mobile phone call was made on April 3, 1973, when Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola, called a rival telecommunications company to let them know he was speaking via mobile phone.
A decade later, in 1983, Motorola released its first commercial mobile phone, the DynaTAC 8000X; a handset that offered 30 minutes of talk-time, six hours standby, and could store 30 phone numbers, all at a cost of £2,639.
Today, it's claimed that more people in the world have mobile phones than have toilets and the average smartphone, a device that relies on up to 250,000 separate patents, provides access to a world of internet-based technology unimaginable when Cooper made his now legendary 1973 call.
The smartphone has become the platform on which e-commerce has truly thrived, unshackling consumers from their personal computers and allowing them to browse, purchase and pay wherever they are and whatever they are doing.
To date, it has been the retailer who has had to navigate the virtual and online world. However, as technology is continuing to rapidly advance, retail and shopping centre landlords need to keep up - or they will be left behind.
The online retail experience is evolving as intelligent personal assistants, like Alexa and Siri, developed by Amazon and Google respectively, look set to follow the smartphone, smart TV and connected vehicle to becoming a staple of daily life.
In the US, Amazon recently purchased Wholefoods, a natural and organic grocery store with over 460 locations across North America and the UK, in a $13.7 billion (£10.6bn) cash transaction, making clear its intent to tap into this new business model.
The same company also recently filed for a patent for ‘multi-level fulfilment centres', beehive-like structures that will accommodate the landing and take-off of drones in dense urban areas.
Experts predict that, eventually, day-to-day shopping will move from the smartphone screen to voice command via personal assistants like Alexa and Siri, who will order online automatically as and when required with delivery via drones within a matter of hours.
‘Shop & Go', another Amazon concept, lets shoppers download an app that allows them to enter a physical store, select items and simply leave without paying. Computer vision and sensors track what items you've taken and your Amazon account is later charged so no physical money changes hands.
All this means that it is likely that shopping centres and town centres increasingly need to become places of experience and a place for people to gather and socialise. In the US and Europe, landlords of shopping centres are reacting fast with a vast array of interesting experiences being attracted to centres, such as ice skating rinks, aquariums, go-kart tracks and ski slopes to name a few.
Landlords need to ensure they have the crucial ability to evolve and keep up with the pace that new innovations will bring to the physical retail space.
Encouraging consumers into physical stores still plays a key part in influencing their purchasing decisions, even if their ultimate purchase isn't made there and then. Successful landlords will be those who give retailers a space that allows them to capitalise on these influences.
Declan Flynn is Managing Director of Belfast-based commercial property agency Lisney, which works on behalf of many of Northern Ireland's most significant investors and developers as well as major retailers and businesses.