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How transport might drive future retail




Ahead of his session at retailiate 2019  speaking about transport and infrastructure, Malcolm Smith, Leader of Integrated City Planning at Arup External Link, takes time out to talk to us about the key role emotion has in shopper travel decisions, what the UK can learn from Singapore about transport infrastructure and reveals how proficient he is at flying drones.

[Cushman & Wakefield]: Technology was (according to some) supposed to reduce travel, yet we all seem to be travelling more. How do you explain the conundrum?

[Malcolm Smith]: I think technology is more about choice. But it can’t replace the subtle dimensions of humanity – the look into someone’s eyes, the gesture of agreement or disagreement, the touch of a material, and so on. While technology helps us communicate information it doesn’t replace experience and emotion – the devices that are core to human understanding.

We also know that many shoppers have an emotional attachment to their cars. Can the two ever be separated?

Individual transport will always have a key role in the foreseeable future – but this isn’t necessarily a car as we know it. The reduction in the number of people getting driving licences is also an interesting indicator.

OK, so what can we learn in the UK from transport solutions in other parts of the world?

It’s hard to get past Singapore. In a very hot climate, with a relatively small population, they have a transport system second to none. The people system is fully integrated from a user point of view – point to point certainty with real time availability.

That sounds like something to aim for. In the meantime, how can our retail/transport interface be improved from a shopper perspective?

It must be something about that space between the ‘joy of the hunt’ (finding something you like/need), then the drudgery of the carry, followed by the delight of first-time use. We now understand that emotion drives the initial decision, and moving the goods is being automated. But I think there is a new dimension on the horizon – the circular economy of goods – where ease of recycling will have a role in decision making.

Talking of horizons, we have to ask whether the sky will really be full of delivery drones in 2029?

If the recent experience of the people in Canberra, Australia, is anything to go by I expect not – lots of buzzing noise around their houses didn’t go down well! I think drones have their place – where ground-based infrastructure, like roads, doesn’t already exist. I’m not sure it will work in built-up areas.

Have you ever flown a drone yourself?

Yes – with the magic moment of finding out where the edge of the control signal finishes, as the drone kept going out of control…

And does that make you wary of driverless vehicles?

I’ve been in one in Amsterdam – along a motorway. It was strange, but you get used to it. I sense I would be comfortable if all the vehicles were driverless. It’s the unpredictable humans that cause the problems!

What travel modes do you use for your own family shopping needs?

All the standard ways. But the most interesting way of shopping has been to scan my feet to get shoes made in Australia!

Finally, do you have any personal weaknesses when shopping for yourself?

Beautiful pens and paper – I just can’t resist. It must be the architect in me.

For more insights from Malcolm Smith and advice on how to retailiate to the changing retail market, register your place at Cushman & Wakefield’s retailiate event.


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