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The 6 main factors that will define the future of the Belgian retail landscape

05/05/2020
Cushman & Wakefield conducted a large-scale survey amongst Belgian consumers, revealing the 6 main factors that will define the future of the Belgian retail landscape. 

BRUSSELS - Cushman & Wakefield (NYSE: CWK) today announced the first results of a survey that was designed to understand how Belgians envisage making their purchases after the health crisis, so as to be able to better advise its clients (both merchants and owners) on their future strategy. 

At a moment when the first tentative reopenings of stores in Asia Pacific, Germany and the Netherlands show us that a “return to normal” will only happen over the medium or even long term, Cushman & Wakefield Belgium conducted a survey on the Belgian retail landscape of tomorrow.

Since stores will be reopening their doors as of May 11th, we collected nearly 2,200 responses from a representative sample of the population (male-female distribution, age class, geographic spread, etc.) in order to get an understanding of consumer expectations. We notably posed a wide range of questions about the consumption habits of the population before and after the health crisis, the health safety measures to be introduced in order to ensure a confident return to stores, the importance of cafés/restaurants and leisure activities in the future commercial offer and online commerce. 

Amongst other lessons, this survey identifies 6 key factors that will be at the centre of the Belgian commercial landscape of tomorrow:

1. A future for physical commerce, but in a different format.

Overall, and ignoring a certain variation between sectors, 60% of the respondents indicate that they are eager to return to physical stores in order to make their purchases - provided they can do so without worries. Although only 25% anticipate increasing their online purchases in the future, the growth of online shopping due to the confinement has been amply verified in recent weeks. So physical commerce certainly has a future, but it will have to reinvent itself in order to attract customers and offer them a unique experience.


2. An omnipresent need for health safety.

Along with the accessibility and variety of the commercial offer, it is the health safety measures that respondents are focusing on. From amongst a wide range of measures, more than 85% deem the regular and visible cleaning of common spaces and/or of commercial surfaces to be an important or very important element. 4 respondents in 5 regard the provision of hydroalcoholic gel as important or very important. Limitation of the number of persons in the stores / shopping centres comes in third place. Measures such as limiting the time for making purchases or establishing one-way circulation are not seen as essential.

CHART: Which are the most important security measures you would like to be put in place in the shopping locations? 

3. Increased frequentation of neighbourhood shops and local businesses.

A phenomenon that had already been observed in recent months from an eco-responsibility perspective, a large majority of respondents envisage henceforth increasing their frequentation of local businesses and neighbourhood shops out of a desire to support and relaunch the local economy as well. The other segments (such as shopping streets and stores located on the periphery) should see stable frequentation. However, the shopping centres will have to be creative and find ways to make themselves even more fun and entertaining in order to attract customers.

 

4. Leisure activities and the Food & Beverage sector are regarded as fundamental.

More than half of the respondents wish to return to restaurants/cafés as soon as they reopen, provided that social distancing rules are respected. For those between 18 and 35 years of age that figure even surpasses 60% (click on chart below). The trend is the same for leisure activities (cinemas, theatre, fitness centres, etc.), where nearly 40% of the respondents foresee an immediate return to these activities. Another fundamental point to consider is the fact that over half of those questioned wish to combine their purchases with leisure and/or food & beverage activities in the future.

  5. More spending on doing things, less spending on having things.

The survey also reveals that in all segments, it is leisure purchases (DIY, gardening, culture and sports, notably) for which respondents envisage increasing their expenditures most in the coming months. Conversely, they anticipate unchanged or slightly reduced spending in segments such as electronic goods, telecommunications or fashion articles (textiles, shoes).

6. An increased need to fully understand the customers.

This is another lesson to be drawn from the survey: it appears increasingly evident for retailers and owners that an in-depth understanding of their clientele is decisive for how a store or shopping centre performs. Significant differences appear in the survey results according to sex, age class and geographical origin of the respondents. All of these elements must be taken into account for the (re)opening of businesses in order to attract customers and offer them a personalised experience.

According to Boris van Haare Heijmeijer, Head of EMEA Retail: “In this very difficult period for our merchants, it’s good to see that online commerce hasn’t become dominant, and that, even though Belgians confirm that they do wish to order more online post Covid-19, there are also those who say they want to return to their old way of shopping and thus favour physical commerce. While awaiting the reopening of stores, merchants and owners of commercial surfaces are doing everything they can to guarantee a safe environment that is as user-friendly as possible.

Jean Baheux, Head of Retail Belgium, adds: “According to the results of our study, the impact of this health crisis on the physical commerce market will be mitigated. Getting back to normal will inevitably take time, but we find that Belgians remain strongly attached to their consumption habits and to their determination, their desire, to go to stores physically in order to do their shopping. They are also very impatient to be able to simply get out of their homes in order to consume again, and to return to restaurants and cafés as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless it is up to all of the market actors - merchants, owners and consultants - to adapt themselves and draw lessons from this crisis so as to be able to relaunch the machine as soon as possible, because it’s certain that there will be a ‘pre-corona’ and a ‘post-corona’.

In this context, and with these elements in mind, Koen Nevens, CEO of Cushman & Wakefield Belgium, confirms: “If we look at what’s happening in the countries where stores have already reopened for business, both in Asia and amongst our neighbours in the Netherlands or Germany, we see the same trends as in our survey. The Belgian commercial landscape will be profoundly transformed in the coming months and years as a result of this health crisis and the changes in modes of consumption. Most of these trends, already present before the health crisis, seem not only to be confirmed but to be accelerating. It is more crucial than ever to understand consumers. The return to normal won’t be accomplished in either the short or medium term. The world has changed, and consumers have adapted their consumption habits. At the moment of reopening, the situation risks being complicated, and some merchants will suffer more than others. Everyone will have to adapt rapidly because in the end, it’s the consumers who will have the last word. That’s why we have developed a panoply of tools aimed at offering the best advice to our clients, both retailers and owners, to help them better understand the market, but also to assist them in analysing how their businesses are performing and guide them in optimising their portfolio.

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