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New Zealand Retail Conference – Some Observations

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After a year like no other and with retail appearing to be the sector under most pressure, I took the recent opportunity to attend the National Retail Conference held by the Property Council of New Zealand in Auckland at the Aotea Centre, along with Vanessa Williams, general manager of the Hamilton Central Business Association.

CEO of PCNZ, Leonie Freeman, welcomed the audience of several hundred attendees, making special mention of how few countries around the world were able to hold gatherings like this and how good it was to be off Zoom calls. It was an opportunity for us to hear from a stellar line-up of retail related professionals, providing little nuggets of insight as to where society is heading.

Kiwi Property CEO Clive Mackenzie provided us with five retail mega trends:

  • Rise of e-commerce
  • Bifurcation and consolidation
  • Changing consumer expectations
  • Data driven decision making
  • Sustainability takes centre stage

Group GM Daniel Agostinelli of performance and streetwear footwear specialists Accent Group (Timberland, CAT, Platypus, The Athletes Foot, Vans, Dr Martens, Saucony, Merrell etc): Bucking the trend, they opened 23 stores through Covid, focusing on a truly omni channel offering and providing customers with a three hour delivery service within Australia’s main cities.

So how important and what is an omni channel offering? it’s the convergence of digital and physical.

  • 7 percent of people shop online only
  • 20 percent of people shop instore only
  • And a whopping 73 percent are omni channel (combination of online
    and instore)

Their business bounced back after Covid, led by convenience, value and a great customer experience. Retail was already evolving, but Covid has meant an accelerated rate of change – we must adapt and, with limited competition from overseas, there are real opportunities for everyone.

We also heard about three very different but stunning developments in New Zealand (Auckland’s Commercial Bay & Invercargill’s Central Shopping Centre) and Australia (Burwood Brickworks in Melbourne). What were some of the common themes?

  • Outward facing and inviting
  • Focused on the community
  • Striving for ‘Remarkable’
  • Importance of design to bring in air, light, water, landscape and meanings
  • Enduring design.

It has become increasingly important for developments to understand their own context – when considering ideas, ask yourself “why not “, not “why”.

I asked Vanessa Williams what was the nugget that she took from the conference –

The reward that can be had from the clever curation of tenancies.

I would urge anyone with a passion or interest in retail (not just retailers – this includes architects, consultants, developers and property owners) to attend in 2021 – there was something for everyone to take away and obvious opportunities every day to improve what we are doing. Other outstanding presenters included:

  • Allan Bollard of Infrastructure NZ with a Government Update
  • Assistance Reserve Bank Governor Christian Hawkesby with an economic update
  • Managing Director of Costco NZ and Australia, Patrick Noone, on their journey
  • JLL Head of Research and Consultancy Paul Winstanley with a market outlook

Unfortunately, I believe we may look back at some of the development that has taken place in Hamilton (including some recent or current development) and feel some shame that we have allowed it to happen. This is not just Hamilton City Council and their application of rules, but the fact that not enough developers and architects have focused on being aspirational for Hamilton and the future of our city – there have been some stunning developments too, but not enough. The 2020 retail conference confirmed to me that there is some stunning examples of development taking place around the country, along with businesses that continually look to evolve to meet their customers changing demands and for what we are continually seeking as a community and society. 

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Mike Neale