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Westfield reveals that community is a top priority for retail in 2021

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield has released new research on the impact of the pandemic on the future of retail, which reveals that community has emerged as a top priority for consumers, suggesting that locally morphed experiences will allow physical retail to thrive in 2021 and beyond.

In its ‘Westfield How We Shop: What’s Changed’ report the shopping centre group reveals that the impact of the past 12-months has shifted and accelerated major retail trends, with a focus on community, sustainability, health and experience in physical shopping.

The study, which polled 2,000 UK consumers and 500 UK retailers, found that 9 in 10 retailers are considering introducing community initiatives in the next 18 months, accelerating the trend to turn shopping destinations into community hubs, while 49 percent of millennials were willing to share their DNA for a better shopping experience.

Plus, whilst e-commerce has grown, over half of consumers are now more considerate of online purchases, due to factors such as excessive packaging and the new report adds that there has been a rental mindset shift from fashion to home rental.

Scott Parsons, UK chief operating officer for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said in a statement: “The past year has changed retail as we know it, and as we look to the future of shopping and leisure destinations, the How We Shop Report highlight’s the great opportunities that will emerge.

“Our research shows the potential rise of community integration with 96 percent of retailers considering introducing community initiatives in the next 18 months, whilst the focus the floorspace ratio of experience to product tipping point has been accelerated 3 years to 2022. Now, more than ever, Briton’s crave physical experiences, albeit in a new and different way, and I am confident that our London centres will re-emerge stronger than ever.”

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield reveals 5 retail trends in its ‘Westfield How We Shop: What’s Changed’ report

The study examines how five major retail trends - Anti-Prescription, Upside-Down Retail, Self-Sustaining Stores, Retail Surgery and Locally-Morphed - have been reshaped as individuals and businesses shift their mindsets and values as they re-consider what is important to them following the pandemic.


As the population has been forced to reduce their travel footprint, more than half of Brits (52 percent) are shopping more locally than last year. This has impacted consumer behaviour, with 49 percent stating that they want to continue to buy locally sourced products.

In addition, 96 percent of the UK’s biggest retailers are considering introducing community initiatives in 2021, a vast shift from 2020, which is welcome news from consumers, as the report adds that three-quarters of Brits (74 percent) expect to see retailers adapt to their local surroundings as they re-open.

Upside-Down Retail

Westfield identified Upside-Down Retail experience-led stores as a key trend in 2020, identifying the ‘experience tipping point’ as 2025 in which retailers allocate more square meterage to experiences over products. This has however been accelerated by the impact of Covid-19 and Westfield is predicting that more concept-based experiences will start to emerge, such as Situ Live, a fully immersive product experience that combines the digital and physical aspects of shopping, which launches at Westfield London alter this year.

Warren Richmond, founder and chief executive of Situ Live added: “We’ve done a lot of research into what consumers want from a physical and digital shopping experience. Tearing up the rulebook for traditional retail, Situ Live shoppers will be able to compare products in ever closer detail, before deciding whether to discover more or purchase direct from the manufacturer simply by scanning a QR code.

“Situ Live at Westfield London will be the destination for people who want to discover and experience products as they would in real life and then speak to knowledgeable experts who listen and recommend products that improve their lives. Consumers have told us they want to browse and be inspired on the high street, and then purchase online. Situ Live allows exactly that, with our digital platform making it easy to compare complex product specifications and then consider a purchase at their own pace.”

Self-Sustaining Stores

Sustainability continues to be an ongoing focus for shoppers and retailers alike. The report finds that nearly two-thirds of UK shoppers (57 percent) are going to be more mindful of their online purchases due to the distribution and packaging impact on the environment. While Brits have also expressed more interest in the rental retail trend than last year, up seven percent from 2020.

Findings found that 84 percent of UK consumers are interested in renting home products in 2021, showing a real appetite for leasing over owning, expanding their horizons beyond just fashion. The top 10 most desired rental products are fitness equipment, spaces to spend time with friends and family, technology, space to work, toys and games, garden equipment, clothes, beauty, furniture and fashion accessories.


With 56 percent of consumers revealing that they were becoming frustrated by inaccurate recommendations served to them when shopping online, the age of anti-prescription was born as a key retail trend in 2020, as consumers crave free-range browsing and impulse shopping.

In contrast, 38 percent of customers claimed the same frustration in 2021 as they adapted to the e-commerce experience and retailers’ evolved online offerings.

In keeping with this changed behaviour, Digital Bricks stores, those that converge the online and offline experience, are more in demand than ever, adds Westfield, with a fifth of shoppers looking for in-store tech such as augmented reality to try on clothes when they return to the shops.

Retailers are also reacting with 9 in 10 prioritising making stores more automated, while over a third (37 percent) are aiming to make their stores contactless in the next 18 months, with social distancing and a new focus on health and safety acting as a catalyst.

Retail Surgery

It was predicted that the retail surgery market, dedicated to prescribing products for specific personal needs, could be worth up to 40 billion pounds per month in the UK alone in 2020. Moving into 2021, Westfield’s new research reveals that nearly half of all millennials (49 percent) would be willing to share their DNA for a better shopping experience that’s 11 percent above the national average.

The Plasma Donor centre and the Vaccination centre which both recently launched at Westfield Stratford City illustrates this change of use of shopping destination spaces which also act as key community hubs. The impact of Covid-19 has shown up strongly in this year’s research too with 78 percent of consumers now interested in health experiences and innovations in-store, up by 20 percent from last year.

Harry Wallop, expert retail analyst, added: “This report shines a fascinating light on how things changed so dramatically in 2020, and crucially which of these trends are likely to continue. Some of the trends, bubbling along for some time now, have been turbo-charged thanks to Covid-19: the shift online, the emergence of contactless stores; digital innovations such as robot assistants and interactive mirrors – dismissed by many as a stunt – are now being taken seriously.”

Images: courtesy of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield

Westfield London
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