Colliers Report Emphasizes the Retail Advantage of Bridging the Digital-Physical Divide [Interview]

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Commercial real estate firm Colliers says retailers who have developed synergies between their online platform and physical storefront are 35 per cent more likely to be profitable.

In its recent report, A Full Cart: Maximizing E-commerce and Brick and Mortar Retail, Colliers made the following recommendations to owners and managers of retail assets:

  1. Omnichannel retail. When assessing the financial strength of a retailer, consider their omnichannel strategy, particularly their online presence;
  2. Convenience on site. Consider enhancements – such as redesigning pedestrian walkways or adding real-time parking data – to facilitate convenience across the property, particularly for necessity retail;
  3. Property maintenance. Even during periods of financial restraint, uphold a clean and well-maintained site for all retail asset classes, as it’s deemed important, particularly for high income shoppers; and
  4. ESG. When promoting ESG practices, amplify retailer initiatives as opposed to property initiatives, as consumers place greater importance on the actions of the retailer as opposed to the property.
Stephanie Hannon

Stephanie Hannon, Senior Vice President and National Lead, Retail Services for Colliers Real Estate Management Services, said “the focus of this (report) is to have an owner understand what drives a consumer to their asset, and the top four elements of importance for a consumer in identifying which properties they wish to travel to and why.”

“We want to emphasize to real estate owners the importance of considering a retailer’s brand identity, both online and offline, as well as how informed we believe consumers are about the elements that define the retailer’s brand,” she said.

“And what else makes you go to a centre? What makes you pass a centre to go to the next one? Why would that compel you?”

Here are the key findings from the report:

  • Non-necessity products are purchased more frequently online than necessity products. There are no products consumers buy exclusively online – far from it. Survey respondents were asked to rank, on a scale from 1-5, how often they would buy certain products online versus a physical store. While none were bought exclusively online, books, electronics, and toys topped the list of products most frequently purchased online when given the choice;
  • The higher the income and level of education, the higher likelihood of shopping online. Younger consumers who live in urban settings with a high income and a high level of education were the most likely to report shopping online daily or weekly. As a result, retail properties situated in more affluent neighbourhoods or wishing to target this demographic are encouraged to have a strong omnichannel presence;
  • The lower the price of the product, the greater likelihood of purchasing online. The price of the product impacts whether a consumer is more likely to purchase the product online or in-store. This is particularly true of non-standard products compared to standard products like books and electronics;
  • Convenience tops the list of reasons to shop online. The prime motivator for shopping online is convenience. Following convenience, the ease of comparing prices, home delivery, and a wider array of products were cited as the top reasons to shop online;
  • The willingness to shop in-store depends heavily on product pricing. When choosing a retail property to visit, shoppers prioritize product pricing for both necessities and non-necessities, with high rankings for cleanliness and variety of stores. A noteworthy difference between necessities and non-necessities has to do with proximity. When shopping for necessities, consumers put a heavier emphasis on proximity;
  • Consumers value proximity when shopping for necessities. On average, shoppers are willing to travel up to 10 kilometres for necessities yet will travel 14 kilometres for non-necessities. Shoppers with higher earnings, likely the largest consumer of non-necessities, were willing to travel less for necessities (max nine kilometres) yet travel further for non-necessities (max 18 kilometres). Necessity retail includes goods that are purchased with regular frequency regardless of income, including grocery stores and pharmacies. Non-necessity retail, typically housed in an enclosed mall, are goods purchased when there is greater discretionary income, including apparel, health and beauty and home décor;
  • Environmental considerations in retail. Consumers place a small level of importance on a retailers’ environmentally responsible practices. 35 per cent of customers – predominantly a younger demographic – seek out retailers with a strong environmental record, including, but not limited to sustainable sourcing and energy efficiency. They are slightly more likely to look to the retailer compared to the retail property for evidence of these practices; and
  • Social considerations in retail. Consumers place a slightly higher importance on a retailers’ socially responsible business practices – including fair labour, diversity and inclusion, and community engagement – compared to their environmental practices. Consistent with the environment, they are more likely to look to the retailer more so than the retail property for strong corporate social responsibility.

Hannon said pre-pandemic the pipeline in non-necessity retail was shrinking.

“Pre-COVID we started to see a retreat of retailers out of Canada, and during COVID nobody really knew what was going to happen.

Photo: iStock

“Now, there are a number of new players in the marketplace.  This has encouraged real estate owners to think creatively about what drives success and further focus on consumer needs,” Hannon said.

“On the necessity side, we remain strong. Non-essential categories are evolving and owners must provide both an ease of shopping, cleanliness, and access, but also variety.”

Hannon said when the shopping centres reopened, they were packed with people. Restaurants were busy. People started traveling again.

“Consumers are particularly interested in having great experiences at great value,” added Hannon. “If you are servicing the consumers, as an owner, you really must put extra effort into making sure that experience is there whether it be your tenant mix, environmental and social awareness, or convenience and accessibility.”

*Retail Insider partnered with Colliers for this article.

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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