Cities, Urban Life & Mobility

Is your city or store a valuable meeting place?


How to create attractive physical meeting places in the digital age.

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Associated Partner

Posted in Cities, Urban Life & Mobility

Many stores, destinations, and cities experience fewer visitors, and there isn’t far between empty stores and pedestrian streets. Cities, stores, and destinations are challenged by changing user behavior. These changes are driven by digitisation and higher demands for meeting experiences.

The 'old' value chain is challenged, changed, and replaced by new value chains that create greater value for the user. The experienced value for the user has always been – and will always be – crucial and decisive for the success of a value chain. In an age where all the world literally is within our reach – with our trusted companion the phone and 4G coverage – we are increasingly conscious about what we use our time on. Time is precious, and we increasingly break with habitual value chains and habits and replace them with optimised use of irreplaceable time.

The current value chains in cities and stores are predominantly developed by the industrial age paradigm of efficiency, with easy access to cities, stores, goods, and services. Malls became popular centres of trade, and the easier we could get goods and have things done efficiently, the better. We went from the small, decentralised store to a consolidation of the market in large, efficient physical concentrations. We built large roads that cut through the city so we can efficiently go where we want, and in many Danish cities, streams were hid away under wide roads to make space for cars and buses.

With digitisation, we have seen – and keep seeing more and better – solutions that give people the opportunity to get goods and services efficiently and cheaply without having to move. A lot of time is liberated that can be used more efficiently than sitting in a car or go in way to get a sought-for product or service. With digitisation, the value chain has been democratised, and more and more power is moved to the end user.

In "How Retail Changes When Algorithms Curate Everything We Buy" (HBR, January 2019), the writers conclude that physical stores can protect themselves by giving consumers a good reason to go there directly in an analogue fashion. A few years ago, Apple announced that their stores should aspire to be meeting spaces for their target groups and that the potential customers should seek out their stores to interact with and hang out with friends and acquaintances and meet like-minded Apple lovers. The updated Apple stores are designed with new physical elements such as meeting rooms where large groups of people can meet. Angela Ahrendt (Director of Retail) describes this development: "A lot of the big online guys have said they’re opening stores. Amazon’s investing in stores. Google’s investing in stores … Starbucks figured it out, you know? Being a gathering place for – right? 'Meet me at Starbucks. And you know, I’ve told the teams, 'I’ll know we’ve done a really, really great job if the next generation, if Gen Z says, "'Meet me at Apple. Did you see what’s going on at Apple today?'". At the city level, the trend of creating meeting spaces and rooms for people is seen in the rezoning of industrial harbours to housing and business and in reestablishing and uncovering streams as centres where people meet (as in Aarhus and Vejle).

In a feature article in Børsen, Jane Sandberg, director of ENIGMA – the Museum for Post, Telegraphy, and Communication in Copenhagen, writes: "We increasingly seek out cultural offers that take place in different spaces: open-air opera, art exhibitions in private homes, or movies in parks. That cultural experiences moves from the sacred halls out where people live their lives is a new trend that makes demands of cultural institutions. The desire of Danes to experience culture far from museums, concert halls, and cinemas of course also raise the question of whether we will need all the houses of culture in the future. Does it e.g. still make sense to have 98 state-supported museums, or would the funds be better used if we closed some houses of culture and instead pooled the money that today is used on heating, security, and maintenance to create even more cultural experiences in other spaces than our physical addresses?"

In an international survey (including Denmark), it was determined that human movement is limited to 25 fixed, physical spaces throughout life. At times, we swap old meeting spots for new ones, but we constantly have 25 regular meeting spaces that are parts of our movement patterns at any one time.

This leads to two big questions you must ask yourself: First and foremost, is your analogue store, business, destination, or city one of the 25 meeting spaces for your target group? And secondly, should you even be a meeting space, or it is more valuable for you and your target group to create a different value chain? One thing is certain: It will be a struggle between cities, stores, and destinations to become a meeting space, and many will die in the elimination race.

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