As we continue to witness the biggest change to the spread of our population with more and more people escaping COVID-19 lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne and heading north to Brisbane and out to regional areas, the implications of this change on our community-based shopping centres may prove to be profound.
We have seen a number of shifts in our society and the way we function since the start of the pandemic, with many workplaces now convinced working from home can be effective along with a massive shift towards staying within our own communities to source as much as we can.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that Brisbane underwent a net gain of 16,322 people in the three months to March 31, 2021. Of those, 4,518 were from Sydney and 3,682 were from Melbourne while 2,558 came to Brisbane from within Queensland.
Interestingly, while Melbourne underwent a net loss of 34,366 people in the first three months of 2021, 22,651 of them moved to regional Victoria.
Similarly, Sydney experienced a net loss of 39,733 people, 24,437 moved to regional NSW.
Consequently, we are seeing a reinvigoration of the “local shops” we haven’t seen since they were the mainstay of the community shopping experience in the 50s.
When the first major shopping centre appeared on the Brisbane landscape at Chermside – opening in May 1957 – the way we shopped started to shift with more people drawn to major shopping centres which had a lot more to offer.
But with lockdowns and fear around COVID, the community is choosing to stay increasingly inside its own postcode and is re-investigating what their local shops have to offer.
This is a golden opportunity for community shopping centres to be injected with investment so they become the essential shopping precinct for their communities.
For some this may mean doing business exactly as they have for years. For others, it may mean auditing the centre to understand how best to capitalise in this market.
This is not to say the large shopping centres are on their way out. They most certainly are not. But their purpose and function may prove to be a little different in the future.
With the drive for people to stay local, many CBDs will undergo their own re-invention as mixed use spaces.
Office buildings will likely be transformed into a mix of residential, dining, retail and work spaces for those who create their own community within what were once central shopping spaces. And while there function may change, office work spaces will never completely disappear.
Tony John, Founder of the Anthony John Group, agrees people are re-discovering their local shopping options, but many are also keen to back to pre-COVID working conditions.
“I think a lot of us have discovered working from home can be both efficient and productive,” John said. “There are less distractions including colleague’s phones and extended meetings which means I generally have a solid window of time – four to six hours – to focus and get things done.
“But I also think ‘cabin fever’ has set in for many people who want to re-connect with others face-to-face. Once lockdowns are over, I think we will see people spending more time in their local communities still, but they are also keen to get back to enjoying the ease of freedom of being able to move around and shop anywhere they want to.
“I believe we will see a permanent shift where many workplaces take a much more flexible approach allowing people to combine working from home with some time in a shared office space. And yes, this does have implications for both large CBDs and local shopping centres alike.”
Largely suburban shopping centres will always attract consumers because of the convenience of having so many shops in the one space. If you are shopping for an event, for instance, you are more likely to be drawn to centres which offer choice.
However, other services and products – from accountants to greengrocers – which can be procured locally will be.
As we stand back and watch our society undergo the biggest revolution of our lifetimes – a direct result of COVID lockdowns – we will continue to see our populations spread out to regional and urban areas, leaving cities to become re-invented community spaces, while community shopping centres will become true centres for our community.