A recent publication, Retail Trends 2018 by Deloitte identifies that the retail store needs to be reimagined to be more than a store and that experimentation with the shopping experience will begin to become more prevalent.  Undoubtedly this is being driven by statements such as those by a recent Revo report which said that “we have significantly more retail space than we need” and that we need to create “mixed environments communities can be proud of – where we work, rest, play and shop.”

According to the statistics portal, Statista, the “UK is second only to China in its preference for e-commerce” with property agency, Hicks Baker outlining in their publication E-commerce Impact that “for the blended online/ offline experience to work effectively, the location of premises is critical.  Shopping habits are changing and shopping is becoming more of a leisure experience.”  They state “consumers don’t expect to pay more in store than on-line.  There isn’t much fat in the modern retail business therefore controlling occupational costs is critical.  A typical retail lease is 7.1 years and if a property is in a poor location you may be saddled with the liability for some time.”

Our idea addresses the above – inspired by air travel.  If, over recent years airports have become shopping centres, forcing the traveller through an outlet of international brands and concessions, why not convert our out-of-town shopping centres into airports?  Or more precisely, Vertiports.

The “Vertiport”
Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft, such as Uber’s Elevate are being developed to provide an electric powered, rapid and reliable transportation network to connect people within the urban environment.  Uber’s proposal in their document Fast-forward to a Future of On-Demand Urban Air Transportation (27 October 2016) explains that their proposal has a need for a distribution network of “Vertiports”, where these aircraft can take-off and land – and connect into a wider transport and utility infrastructure.  We propose that existing shopping centres and retail destinations provide this network, as they have the available space, are strategically located to urban centres, transport and utilities.  Passengers arriving and departing a “Vertiport” will provide footfall through the retail and shopping experience, whilst customers can use them as a spring-board to another urban destination, or as a way of travelling to and from their shopping trip.

The Last Mile
If out of town shopping is re-invented as a network of vertiport hubs with electric passenger drones taking off and landing on the buildings, we believe that the network could also address another growing retail requirement, e-commerce logistics.

Berlin-based Zalando is one of the world’s largest fashion-focused e-commerce businesses selling directly to consumers and acting as an online platform for other retailers.  In a recent interview with Bisnow, Zalando said “A lot of people are talking about city logistics and the last mile – we are not talking about big warehouses any more, we are talking about multi-let space, units of about 22,000 sqft.”  They go on to point out that e-commerce companies are refurbishing old supermarkets or department stores because they have delivery zones and were designed with access for vehicles in mind.

Out of town shopping centres are also ideally located to provide that “last mile” opportunity, but why not also via drone?  Both Amazon and Google are in the advanced stages of developing drone delivery services, which we believe could share the take-off platform location with a passenger service – either delivering goods ordered on-line for the “last mile” or those purchased off-line on site, which the customer doesn’t wish to carry home.

The Experience
With integrated transport (VTOL and driverless cars) and the e-commerce infrastructure redefining out-of-town centres – the traditional arrangement of a surface car park enclosed on two sides by “sheds” will become redundant.  Our proposal rationalises the customer car parking, whether as a reduction, or into a multi-storey.  It then allows the space between to become the experience.  This might include pop-up style container shop units that are shared on rotation with other outlets, ensuring variety and a changing dynamic.  A biome might introduce foreign climates in which goods could be “tried before you buy” – for example extreme weather sports clothing or skis on artificial snow.  Or maybe just to enjoy an alfresco flat-white without being surrounded by car fumes.

Our submission shows an imagined scene, where we have taken the form of a typical existing out of town shopping destination –  the Crown Estate’s Ocean Village in Portsmouth – and applied the above narrative.

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