Retail in London is “thriving” right now, according to Michael Ellis, a partner with 5+ Design, who just returned from a trip to England.

“London and everything else related to High Street retail is thriving,” Ellis, who just returned from a trip to London, told Loyalty 360.

The Hollywood, CA-based 5+ Design architecture California architecture firm specializes in retail design, and pinpoints the rising trend in retail spaces. Ellis said some retailers, led by Burberry in the U.K., are going the other way, and attempting to integrate elements of their online presence into their physical stores – through software that allows virtual trying on of clothes, or live links to events in other stores or even other countries.

Burberry’s latest London flagship on Regent Street is trying to meld the Internet experience and the store experience together.

“It’s an interesting notion and ultimately it may lead to new paradigms for store design, but as of now I think it’s more of a different way to create a showcase retail environment,” Ellis explained. “The Superdry flagship on Regent Street is somewhat more pure – very effectively conveying the brand through the physical characteristics of the store.”

Ellis said people in the U.K. are examining all the issues related to retail more closely than in the U.S., and how online is affecting brick-and-mortar customer loyalty.

“They’re thinking about it and talking about it,” he said.

In the U.K., there is a strong connection between retail and the community, Ellis said. The High Street shopping areas have several vacancies, Ellis said, because they don’t need as much space for retail.

“They’re thinking about how retail integrates with other uses in the community, such as retail centers with doctors’ offices,” he explained. “Retail in the U.K. is kind of returning to the true marketplace to its roots and they’re reconsidering how retail should be integrated. The integration of online and brick-and-mortar stores is being talked about a lot more there than here.”

There is a good amount of loyalty to specific U.K. brands – like Burberry – and that brand is trying to cement its reputation with older and younger consumers, Ellis said.

“Much of the loyalty aspect in the U.K. comes from convenience through all channels, and they’re working pretty hard at that,” Ellis explained. “They have better fast food options, like Marks & Spencer. And people are very loyal to those places.”

Speaking of the convenience factor, Ellis said London has a delivery service now – called Shutl, a service that is expanding to the U.S. -- that allows customers to go online select pickup or delivery of a product. The service figures out the closest location to where the request was made and sends a truck within 14 minutes.

Ellis believes Shutl is a positive sign for retail in London.

“Services like Shutl allow for greater convenience in ordering online, but also foster a great connection between online and bricks and mortar stores, as the goods are often picked up directly from stores to speed delivery,” he explained. “So rather than the Internet and bricks and mortar being divided, they are becoming integrated in terms of offer and availability of goods, which I believe is positive.”

Ellis said the U.K is divided between what is happening in London -- where High Street shops are thriving -- and the rest of the country, where the demand for retail space has declined, leading to many closed stores which affect negatively the character of these shopping environments.

“Outside of London, there is a focus on coming up with other uses that can fill these closed stores, and typically these are restaurants, service-oriented uses, government offices, or uses that require face-to-face visits like doctors or physical therapists,” Ellis said. “The positive aspect about all of this is that retail becomes re-integrated into the fabric of daily life, rather than being sequestered into its own zone (which is even more exaggerated in malls).  This notion that retail can and should be part of the mix of a city or zone of a city, rather than the only thing available, is a notion that is also taking hold in this country as well.”

Two “big” words being discussed at great length in the U.K., according to Ellis, are convenience and experience.

“Experience comes into play moreso with brick-and-mortar stores and no matter what channel you use it has to do with convenience,” Ellis explained. “They want to make it easier for people to shop quickly. There is greater attention being paid to creating attractive environments.”

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