Retailing up in the air and moving underground

One theme that has emerged from our stores of the future series is retailers using existing real estate and infrastructure more efficiently. Thinking vertically is fast becoming a new trend.

First up, the hypermarket. Solar panels apart, many hypermarket roofs are dead space at the moment. One could now use drones and robots to make urban farming a reality, all access needed would be a lift shaft. The heat exchange from the fridges could be used for powering green houses on top of hypermarkets – to grow vegetables locally and sustainably.

Currently the concept is held back by health and safety issues, as retailers do not want to send their staff up there, but drones and robots promise a solution. Food sourced from greenhouses on the roof would involve no food miles, be cheap, controlled by the retailer and guarantee perfect OSA. Already companies are working on this.

A second point concerning drones, with realisation a couple of years away still – would be to deliver goods from a warehouse/DCs to click & collect depots. These could be on top of stores or shopping malls (or as next step even to skyscrapers where people live).

This would get around the unpredictability of drops in people’s gardens and guarantee much better safety standards. Special corridors for UAVs could then be carved out. This would cut out human error and be much better for loss prevention and much cheaper than sending a driver out.

Moving on to the high street. Predating its click & collect stores on Oxford Street, Ikea has opened a city centre furniture store in a pedestrianised zone in Hamburg Altona and placed a 750 space car park on the roof. This hasn’t been an unqualified success though, the altered race course design in the format has confused shoppers. Instead of picking up their Billy shelves on the ground floor before leaving, products have to be collected from the warehousing unit on the 3rd floor (just below the car park on the roof). A combination of fantastic footfall and below average basket sizes is due to many shoppers not venturing into the store beyond the 1st floor. Instead of visiting the show rooms and furniture and room solutions they turn right at the entrance and go to the restaurant.

Back in the UK, House of Fraser has opened a click & collect concession on the top floor in its Jenners department store in Edinburgh. The retailer has turned a stock room floor and dead space into a dedicated click & collect pick up point and a way to digitally introduce new brands into the market – without having to roll them out and stock them across the entire physical store estate. A full roll out happens only if new collections have proven themselves winners. For this endless aisle and online ranging concept to work, delivery needs to be quick, and House of Fraser can be quick. The retailer is able get stock into shoppers’ hands within 24 hours.

While many store roofs are dead space at the moment and underutilised infrastructure, retailers are going underground as well.

Once again the car parks are obvious candidates. Due to phenomenal growth, plots for the usual discounter box are getting harder to find. The space requirements for car parks and deliveries could either move on the roof, as Aldi and Lidl have done in a few outlets in Europe. It’s probably better to move this under the store (either underground or a cheaper alternative raising the store one level). This means reducing space requirements and enables finding more plots suitable to put an Aldi or Lidl on.

And in Switzerland – land of of the Alps and tunnels – forward thinking retailers are considering self driving trains for deliveries into convenience store estates. Underground trains could be automated and run at times considered too dangerous for human beings as driver, as they would need no rests or breaks.

The ongoing multichannel transformation will mean that stores on the best sites in high footfall locations will have to work much harder than in the past. Stores will not just be transformed inside, but on their roofs and underground as well.

​Find out a lot more here.