Why digital transformation is now coming to retail FM

The death of high street retail is probably somewhat exaggerated, but its transformation is happening now – and FM leaders need to be at the forefront of this change. 

“Legacy” FM is a set of attitudes to facilities management, firmly entrenched in the past, and making no effort to recognise today’s digital revolution, which is changing retail FM rapidly and forever. Legacy FM consists of keeping old facilities in their traditional configuration, and ignoring or refusing requests to adapt the space to changing consumer demand. If systems need replacing, the cheapest option is always adopted, but in general, change is seen as something to be avoided at all costs.

The cost will always be important, but so is the investment, because retail business success requires spaces that consumers can relate to, and will make a point of visiting. Innovative companies that see a different future for retail are prepared to make this type of investment, but when it comes to recruitment, they need FM professionals who can match their vision.

FM companies will increasingly be partners to these game-changing companies, providing flexible and exciting locations that engage the customer. Tracking sensors, electronic in-store messaging, interactive kiosks and mixes of real-life experience with software provision are all going to be needed.

The new FM mindset is more flexible about building systems, too. Previously, systems were rigid entities that were difficult and expensive to change, without replacing the entire infrastructure. These days, with modular and intelligent building systems, parts of the system can be swapped in or out – provided the FM professional understands this new approach.

But perhaps the major challenge going forward is going to be integration with digital systems. In retail, the challenge from online will be met head-on by providing the same services as an online store, but adding value to them. Sure, you can buy your new drill online, but only when you order or buy in-store will you get the tutorial from a professional showing you how to use it. People won’t want to carry lots of stuff home – but they will want it delivered later that day. So logistics systems will have to be integrated with store systems, and in some cases, delivery vans will need to be located nearby, for immediate pickup and distribution.

Another of the key changes in retail will be the integration of entertainment and eating into the retail environment. Some branches of Next already contain Costa coffee shops within the store. Large malls such as Westfield have cinemas, live music and other forms of entertainment, as well as a huge choice of restaurants, diners and cafes, and even spa and wellness areas. All of this calls for facilities management that is able to cross boundaries and service very different kinds of activities. New FM systems also integrate advanced security and monitoring systems, to ensure that the retail space is safe for both customers and employees.

The simpler, self-contained legacy systems of the past didn’t have to deal with this kind of complexity. But the FM jobs of the future will go to those FM managers who can thrive in these kinds of multi-functional retail spaces.