Bringing life back to bricks and mortar stores

By CCIWA Editor

WA stores and venues have faced whiplash losses in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions, but dwindling retail foot traffic has been a concern for far longer. Still, experts believe we can turn it around.

WA stores and venues have faced whiplash losses in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions, but dwindling retail foot traffic has been a concern for far longer. Still, experts believe we can turn it around.

COVID-19 restrictions have kept people at home and accelerated the shift to online purchasing. But the battle for foot traffic in Perth's CBD was being waged far before the COVID-19 crisis. In preceding years, empty shops, high office vacancy rates and the number of homeless in the city were regular media fodder and a source of public debate.

However, retail analysts are forecasting a renewed consumer interest in visiting physical stores. These consumers, according to experts, will come with new demands.NBK Retail Founder Natalie Berg says stores will need to tap into emotion, human connection discovery and community to thrive. "There's an opportunity to start innovating with the physical space again."

WA has seen this shift in the retail sector in recent years from traditional shopping precincts to ‘living centres’. As noted in CCIWA's 'Time to Open: Retail Trading Hours in WA – A Case for Reform', these living centres have become retail community hubs where people can shop, work, eat, see a doctor, and have a child minded.

Expectations of the shopping 'experience' are changing. So what can steps can retailers take to bring foot traffic back and keep customers engaged?

The Time to Open report showed the majority of businesses, and the community, supported moves to ease restrictive trading hours.

Proportion of businesses that believe extending retail trading hours would help bricks and mortar retailers compete with online retailers like, who can operate 24/7.

Proportion of businesses that agree that to give local businesses the best shot of surviving COVID-19, all WA businesses should have the freedom to open their doors when they want.

Proportion of households that agree that local shopping precincts can be a hub for community activity.

Local focus

Retail consultancy Fitch Chairman Tim Greenhalgh is quoted saying: “The future of shopping is not retail. The future of shopping is experience. Things were already in motion here before COVID, but they’ve now been accelerated and brought to the fore.” He sees growing evidence that big brand retailers are starting to create "local presence rather than just a smaller format shop in a local environment."

Activate Perth is one organisation looking to tap into this local focus. The not-for-profit aims to bring vibrancy and increased foot traffic to the city. CEO Kylie Taylor says when you're looking to differentiate a city, you need to look closely at the percentage of unique retail experiences.

"We then have to look at okay what unique retailers can we bring on board, what are people looking to do, what other services can we provide, what experience goes around that, and how do I feel in that space... People are craving community."

'Living centre' redevelopments at Carousel, Whitfords and Belmont host social spaces and experiences. The retail centres include modernised cinemas, playgrounds, licensed venues, alfresco areas, sustainable gardens and live music spaces. Enticing people to visit, and spend time in, retail spaces is a well-known tactic of retailers. Some large chain stores, like Ikea, offer 'play areas' for children. Meanwhile, cafes and smaller retailers have 'child corners', with toys and books. 

Revitalising retail spaces

CCIWA is campaigning to open up WA’s trading hours, helping drive people back to community centres and reignite vibrancy on our high streets. Last year, Simone De Been of Kalgoorlie Boulder CCI commented on the Council’s decision to extend retail trading hours on Sunday, including Sunday morning: “… we’ve got a more vibrant main street now on a Sunday ... Our community as a whole just loves it."

"One industry that it really did benefit was the tourism industry. Instead of people coming to Kalgoorlie and just driving through, and we’re missing out on that spend, people are now staying in town because they can do their shopping on the Sunday. Go up the main street, have a look, have a coffee, something to eat and there’s shops available.”

Critical to Activate Perth is its “Fill This Space” initiative, which offers free retail space to start-ups and installations. Taylor says these pop-ups also support local businesses who are losing traffic as more vacancies spring up around them. Similar initiatives in Newcastle, New South Wales, and Adelaide offer strong supporting arguments to the case. A Deloitte report found that the Renew Adelaide scheme delivered a total net benefit of $1.9 million in 2017-18, resulting in a benefit-cost ratio of 3.9.

The scheme gave opportunities to Vanessa Bartholomaeus and Svetlana Grebenshikoff, who opened the doors to their life-long dream business, Fleur & Brew. The concept retailer combined floristry, coffee and delicious pastries. The business focused on local produce, including native flower floristry.

Activate Perth, meanwhile, has seen a range of start-ups and initiatives hosted in previously vacant space, including fashion retailers, poetry groups, galleries and fitness groups.

Do you have any tips to bring customers through the door? Let us know at

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