Connecting people with places: The changing face of retail
Jan 10, 2019
The business of connecting people with places will be at the heart of the success of the retail sector in the coming years. And this is where QICGRE will pioneer the development of next generation retail centres and commercial office environments. 

That connection can be challenging to measure but you know it when you see it. It exists in a family taking photographs in front of a Christmas installation or a group of schoolchildren engaged in animated conversation stretched out on the grass next to a town square. When people are ready to enjoy spending time in a place and coming back again, it starts to weave itself into the fabric of a community – the connection between the people and the place is palpable. For when a local community is empowered to use and engage with a place they have claimed as their own, it becomes a learning and living resource. A place in which they actively seek to share and which will bring them back, knowing that they will again find experiences they value. Gradually the effect is to establish a place in the fabric of the local community.

The school children attracted to the local square by the welcoming gardens and the cafés will return to do their homework at the nearby library, or to attend a free concert on the neighbouring piazza. Adjacent cultural spaces may co-operate directly with their schools, to provide educational resources – learning facilities from a library, say, or a class visit to a local theatre. The wider the range of facilities, the wider the range of local people it can serve, and a place generating these types of memorable experiences will quickly be talked about and shared online creating a must-visit destination.

“Retailers are duly shifting from transaction to interaction, from functionality to social relevance, from serving an immediate practical requirement to creating meaningful experiences.”

Place-making is growing in importance too, as we see an emerging cultural shift in consumer behaviour with experiences prioritised over transactions, and humanity emphasised over functionality. Additionally the growth of e-commerce means that today’s consumer is more urban, more digitally connected, more discerning and more informed than ever before. As a consequence, QICGRE is shifting its focus from transaction to interaction, from functionality to social relevance, and from serving an immediate practical requirement to creating meaningful experiences.

The setting for these experiences is becoming an integral part of delivering them. If retailers want to replace today’s neutral feelings associated with concepts of ‘convenience’ and ‘filling a unit of time’ around visiting shopping malls, with the positive, reinforcing feelings associated with personal value, discovery and meaning, place-making will be an important consideration for them.

In order best to benefit its partners, tomorrow’s developments need to provide what local people seek beyond or alongside the retail transaction. If you’re trying to create a communal, social experience then just counting shopping bags won’t give the whole picture.

The dissolution of the boundary between a public and private space is the first place to look for evidence that the place-making project is working. The family photographing the Christmas installation and the school children catching up in the square have crossed a road or a square into a park that is controlled by a private company. They are demonstrating that the wall between public space – where they can relax – and private space has been dismantled. Dismantling this wall means integrating sectors that have traditionally stood apart – combining fashion with food, design, architecture, culture, wellness, learning, entertainment, public spaces and the latest technology.

The Town Square

This means placing the needs of the community at the heart of the development vision. This is to reject the notion that the community should – or will - shape itself around the development. It means creating opportunities that draw people in – not on errands of necessity, but on journeys of meaning, engagement and experience giving for personal journeys lasting in the long-term.

For those at the vanguard of tomorrow's retail world the rewards will be substantial. In Australia, the average individual spends more on retail than his or her US equivalent and online, Australians' luxury spending ranks in the top five of the world's largest e-commerce markets. Based on this evidence, it won't be for long that only one in five of the world's Top-100 retailers have a physical presence in Australia.

Transforming the retail model means transforming the funding model, too. In particular, this means blurring the distinction between public and private investment – a lead QIC has taken already with its Eastland development outside Melbourne. The initiative is part of QICGRE's wider strategy to develop and expand its portfolio. Today it commands a circa $18bn portfolio, most of it focused on 30 mixed-use commercial and retail sites across the US and Australia. Spearheaded by a $5 billion strategic development programme, and continuing on a programme of global expansion. Behind it sits one of Australia's leading financial services firms, born in 1991 as the investment vehicle for the Queensland Government and today running a global diversified investment alternatives business, counting international superannuation funds, endowments and financial institutions among its clients.

Place-making of a kind is what you're engaged in now. QIC are building a digital environment with which to inspire and inform its vision. It will provide a platform for the world's leading innovators and tastemakers across art, fashion, design, technology, food and wellness. They will share their vision for what invigorates and inspires them in the places they seek out. And they will explain how they view their work as the means to contribute towards a more engaged and fulfilled community. Welcome QICGRE's latest place-making project.