If ecommerce is effectively the world’s largest virtual shopping centre, where does that leave the physical precincts that dominated retail investment in the second half of the 20th century?
Sophie Ross, Head of Multichannel at European retail property specialist, Hammerson, explains why digital is breathing new life and excitement into the shopping centre format – and how Hammerson is blurring the boundaries between retail and leisure to attract new visitors.
How is the influence of ecommerce impacting the shopping centre, and where do shopping centres fit into modern retail?
We don’t see online as a direct competitor threat. Our challenge is to help retailers within our centres give their customers a great multichannel experience. For us, the growth of digital has meant enhancing the experience within the physical environment, in order to increase not only footfall, but also visitor dwell time and the number of retailers they visit.
The social element of retail is still incredibly relevant. Going shopping is the second most popular pastime in the UK after watching television, and this is reflected in the growth of entertainment and leisure options across shopping centres. There are many more food and beverage outlets than there were 5-10 years ago, and this is being driven by consumer appetite.
What strategies have you put in place to create enhanced shopper experiences?
Central click-and-collect points have been very successful at a number of our shopping centres such as Brent Cross, and we’ve just launched one at Bullring in Birmingham, in partnership with Doddle. It helps to drive footfall among consumers shopping with pure play retailers, and can also increase incremental spend; around 80% of shoppers who come in to collect a package go on to spend more, whether that’s in stores or at our restaurant and leisure brands.
We’re continually looking at new ways to bring food into the retail experience. Our Le Terasses du Port centre in Marseille has a successful local food market, which we’re reinventing this year and are hoping to trial in more centres.
We’ve also put a lot of investment into our new Plus mobile app, which enables shoppers to redeem offers across the centre during their visit, as well as providing access to other events and information to enhance their experience.
Tell us more about the app…
We launched Plus in the middle of last year as a means of driving footfall and increasing visitor engagement. It is also enabling us to understand our most loyal shoppers in greater detail and allowing us to nurture that commitment through personalised offers.
The insight it has provided us with so far has really validated what we know about our shoppers, and we’ve done some additional research around customer engagement ahead of an upgrade to the app. It’s also thrown up a few surprising statistics – for instance, while more women have downloaded the app, a greater proportion of men have redeemed offers. They’re the bargain hunters.
And while we own the physical space, we share the data our app generates with retailers, so that we can collaborate together on exclusive offers, tailored to user activity.
Another area our app is enhancing is on-site events. We can sell tickets and provide information about pop-up promotions, such as our spring and autumn fashion shows. This gives us the opportunity to reward loyal customers based on experiences and services, such as giving them special access to the initiatives we host – for instance, we offer beauty makeovers during our fashion events.
What is the future of the shopping centre?
Entertainment is going to play an even bigger role – our Victoria Gate shopping centre, opening in Leeds this autumn, will include a casino, for example. We recognise that giving visitors breadth in the offer is very important.
At the end of the day, the boring part of shopping – research, transactions etc. – should be made as simple as possible, largely through the use of technology. The shopping centre needs to be fun, a place to go with friends and family. That’s why we’re investing in interactive technologies such as digital screens on our hoardings when we do a store re-fit, so visitors can take part in challenges like playing virtual musical instruments.
We’re also installing a digital light sculpture at Highcross in Leicester, which will showcase what’s going in the local area and bring shoppers multimedia experiences in real-time.
Another key development will be adjusting the shopping centre’s opening hours, to cement its transition from a retail venue to a retail and leisure destination. Our WestQuay centre in Southampton is a great example of this; we will be soon opening a new leisure element, WestQuay Watermark, which will become a focal point for the night time economy.
Ultimately, our aim is to create destinations that attract visitors during the day, but provide entertainment facilities that make them want to stay into the evening.