Experience is the key in battle with online retailing
Alan Thornton, Chairman of the BCSC Retail Marketing Group and Director of MADISONSOHO, discusses the methods retailers can use to offer a shopping experience that online can't
While online sales have yet to inflict a mortal wound on shopping centre sales, many centres risk being "nibbled to death" by a gradual erosion of sales as shoppers favour online convenience over a real-life shopping trip.
For many centres, Customer Experience used to be a 'nice-to-do'. Today it's more of a survival strategy. As the High Street experience becomes less palatable to many consumers, bigger shopping destinations are catching on to the benefits of experiential shopping. For smaller centres it's a potential lifeline.
Shopping centres need to ask: 'what can I provide in the way of experience that shoppers can't download'. It could be a major event activity like CentrO Oberhausen's award-winning Rizzi art show, but it could also be as simple as horticultural demos being run from a flower kiosk or yoga classes in an empty unit. Westfield Stratford includes a built-in kitchen demonstration area within the mall. Retailers are similarly cottoning-on to the benefits of brand differentiation though the experience of the stores. A glass of champagne and a grand piano in fashion store Sacoor Brothers or the construction of the fictionalised thematic High Street to Tedbury in a new Ted Baker concept store.
Despite the challenges posed to retail by the digital economy, it's important to turn the threat into an opportunity. Innovations like Flashmobbing bring a sudden explosion of activity to the mall, but importantly it works in conjunction with the digital audience not against it.
Historic venues such as Covent Garden built their retail appeal on the inherent theatricality of their space. Street performance is one of their strongest USP's so it's hardly a new idea.
Some centres literally incorporate a theatrical experience - Kozzi in Istanbul won international awards for its local integration of a theatre within the Mall. In Dubai, Mall of the Emirates does the same while in the UK theatres form an integral part of the space in local schemes in St Albans and Hounslow.
Worth considering how many retailers successfully use shopper experience to bolster their customer service. Anyone who has seen the Apple staff lining up to applaud shoppers on launch day will know that Apple staff are trained to perform but in this case it's the shopper that's made the star of the show.
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