With Hong Kong’s e-commerce value forecasted to rise by 42% by 2020, it comes as no surprise that numerous brands and retailers are already introducing new concepts and revamped digitised in-store experiences to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping. The adoption of suitable digital engagement tools can help to draw customers to brickand-mortar shops, and make shopping more convenient by offering a seamless convergence between different shopping channels. By these means retailers can offer memorable shopping experiences and build the much needed “brand stickiness”. Driven by shoppers’ desire for digital instore attractions, variety, and exclusivity, together with the reduced need for storage due to the extension of many shops online, we believe that the trend towards smaller shops will grow. Capitalising on adjusted rents, retailers are opening smaller shops in Hong Kong’s prime locations.

However, catching up with emerging customer demands goes beyond the mere adoption of new technologies and layouts. High on the agenda, not only for Millennials and Gen Z, are also exciting urban places where people can hang out, socialise, and enjoy themselves; challenging the current use of space in the city, and pushing for more pedestrian-friendly initiatives. We believe that pedestrianisation can act complementary to a mobile-first strategy.

A walkable and connected pedestrian precinct that provides people with the attractions they are seeking – diversity of shops, entertainment, various F&B options and activities, can boost foot traffic. Inviting people to stay longer helps to drive retail sales. In this context, pedestrian-friendly urban design including public seating, shade, WiFi, access to free drinking water, green elements and useful amenities are crucial components for the success of a pedestrian precinct.

Creating this urban space is a challenging task, that needs close cooperation between retailers, landlords and the government. For Hong Kong, pedestrianisation is not a new concept. In fact, the government has already established several traffic free zones across the city - with differing levels of success. Located in Hong Kong’s CBD, a pedestrianisation of the historically valuable Des Voeux Road Central (DVRC) has the potential to bring overarching long-term benefits to the local retail scene, pedestrians and beyond. However, complex traffic re-routing, the loading and unloading of goods, potential overcrowding and nuisances, are all issues that need to be addressed, not only for the public but also for businesses operating in the area.

However, it is noteworthy that most pedestrianisation projects seem to be challenged/opposed by similar objections. While the task is high in complexity, there are manifold examples of successful pedestrianisation projects around the world, that combine the benefits of a pedestrianfriendly city centre, efficient business operations and smooth traffic. For instance, when New York’s Times Square was closed to traffic for a sixmonth trial, 68% of surrounding businesses supported a permanent road closure. The now pedestrianised area saw a huge boost (+84%) in stationary population, i.e. people that stayed to eat and shop. Moreover, traffic fears did not materialise – e.g. public buses were faster after being rerouted. Numerous other projects like La Rambla in Barcelona, Pitt Street in Sydney, Tokyo’s Shinjuku and many more places recorded positive results - cases Hong Kong can turn to for inspiration.

The current proposal to pedestrianise DVRC is receiving substantial backing. Walk DVRC is a major supporter and promotes a walkable and liveable CBD (“Walk Des Voeux Road Central Initiative”) that begins with the pedestrianisation of 1.4 km of Des Voeux Road Central – stretching from Pedder Street in Central to Western Market in Sheung Wan. Trams would not be affected, and one lane of the road would remain open for loading/unloading activities and emergency vehicle access. The revitalisation can save the area from further decay and transform it into a people-focused vibrant urban space.

We strongly believe that this new dynamic public realm is likely to attract more residents, tourists, and office workers to the area. Businesses could benefit from increased visibility, and consequently higher revenues. Likewise, landlords would see reduced vacancies and increased property values. The creation of a peoplefriendly destination that promotes cultural heritage and the adoption of new retail concepts is paving the way for more vibrant neighbourhoods and aids the city’s future competitiveness.

In addition to the Nielsen Company’s recent research that found a high level of approval by retailers in the area, Walk DVRC’s initiative, the “Sheung Wan Fiesta”, a two-block, 90-day trial scheme that is planned to be in operation from April to June 2019, would show pedestrians and businesses the great potential of a pedestrian-friendly CBD.

If you support or have doubts about pedestrianisation and the benefits it could provide, we strongly recommend you visit the Sheung Wan Fiesta. You can find more about Walk DVRC on their WEBSITE and if you would like to know more about pedestrianisation in Hong Kong, please feel free to reach out to me at melanie.k@colliers.com.