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Air conditioning

Let’s talk about air conditioning. Here in Queensland (south east corner), for about 3 weeks a year life can be pretty tough without air conditioning. During the day everybody heads to air conditioned shopping centres and malls or goes to the cinema to escape the heat and humidity. And government advisors actively tell some people (elderly, infirm, very young) to do this when the weather’s particularly oppressive.

Climate change means this is not going to go away anytime soon, in fact it’s likely to get worse.

If you run a retail outlet in a shopping mall you might well say ‘bring on the hot weather!’ But what do you do if you own a shop in a conventional high street or main street type location? The scientifically (and economically) sensible thing to do is to close your shop door and crank up the aircon. This will certainly keep you and your customers cool. Think beyond this though and there are a number of other factors at play.

Unless they really have to, people try not to leave their home – or their office if they’re at work – when it’s super hot. Stay inside, don’t expend too much energy and stay cool.

So many high street retail precincts empty out on these days. On top of this, if retailers’ doors are closed, you generally only go in when you are definitely going to buy something. Very little browsing takes place. O some types of shopping just don’t happen. Clothes shopping for example – much easier to do it online or in a mall.

There’s not much you can do about the weather, but you can maybe adjust to it. Australia inherited its first wave of retail from Britain – a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ according to Napoleon. Britain didn’t have stunningly hot summers and so for most of the time (excepting heavy rain or snow – less common in Britain than you might think) shops would stay open through the day. That 9-5 existence was brought over to Australia. Then came the US influence – the arrival of the huge shopping malls. Almost no influence of shopping habits in countries with similar hot weather like, for example, the Middle East or the Mediterranean.

In the southern half of France for example there are plenty of big shopping malls. But there are also lots of narrow cobbled streets and open areas in towns and cities that are full of shops. Here’s the difference – they open different hours. Generally these shops – including some supermarkets – are open early and then close over the midday period for anything from two to four hours, and then open again in the mid afternoon (say 4pm) and trade late.

Now adopting this in Australia would be a real retail revolution, but it would certainly be a point of difference for a high street precinct. Of course the malls will always stay open so it’s not as if a local shopping area is going to be the only place to go shopping, but it will in many cases be a more interesting place to go shopping. Add into the mix a range of bars, cafes and restaurants and the appeal is greater.

Some retail precincts do hold late night opening events, but these are generally not that often – maybe once a month at most. People need a consistency to know they can go down and do some browsing – if not every night then maybe one night a week.

What do YOU think? Would your precinct consider this? Or if you’re a shopper, would you enjoy this sort of shopping?

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