With the rise of online shopping, traditional retail and leisure centres have to work harder to create dynamic, exciting experiences that make customers want to return. Customers who take the time to visit a centre no longer simply want the convenience of having multiple stores selling their wares alongside each other. Instead they’re looking for an engaging and personal environment where they can socialise and explore – an experience that can’t be matched online.
DESIGN THE SPACE AND JOURNEY AROUND CUSTOMERS
Designing this environment is ultimately underpinned by a commercial reality: to thrive these centres need to attract the customers that their occupiers need. To do so, retail and leisure centres need to have a firm grasp on who their occupiers’ customers are and what they are looking for, so that the space and customer journey can be designed around them. And as importantly, the customer experience must evolve as customer expectations do. These expectations will shift from location to location depending on the catchment and occupier mix.
Physical stores also need to be able to reflect the increasingly sophisticated and multi-channel sales techniques that occupiers are adopting. With online platforms driving visits to physical stores via click and collect, and physical stores acting as literal and metaphorical shop windows for online sales, brands are investing in creating a seamless quality of experience both online and offline.
In this context, space and choice are incredibly important. As consumers, our shopping choices are increasingly polarised between times when we are looking for a cheap, fast transaction, or times when we are seeking a sense of theatre from our retail experience – with bigger spaces and more diversity within them.
EVOLVE TO THRIVE
To meet these expectations we are seeing centres invest in creating more places to choose, test and buy items, as well as creating more casual spaces – from outdoor and indoor seating to relaxation spaces and soft-play areas for children.
We also want more choice when it comes to what we do with our time during a trip out. A major trend has been the diversification of traditional shopping centres into food and leisure. We have seen a transformation of old food courts, as well as a revival of town centre cinemas – both of which encourage customers to stay longer and, ultimately, spend more.
The most important thing for managing a retail and leisure destination – as with any brand – is to put ourselves in the place of the customer. We need to understand and map the journeys around the scheme and then make sure that all these trips are the best that they can be – in terms of environment, ease of navigation and the availability of services along any given route.
DATA BUILDS THE PICTURE
The retail sector already has the tools to undertake this mapping exercise. Footfall information and data from wireless connections help us understand how people move around, which services they’re using and what their priorities are. By building up a picture of the centre in this way we can enhance the experience at the points of a customer’s journey where it matters most.
Finally, the important lesson for retailers and retail centres is to make sure that brands keep up with their customers. As consumer needs and expectations shift over time, delivering a consistently high quality of experience is essential to making sure customers remain excited and engaged, so that they come back again and again.
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