Steven Connolly, Centre Director at Festival Place, comments on the current environment for the shopping centre industry and what centres can do to for growth in 2012.
With just a few months into 2012 and many retailers already announcing their administration, the tone has been set for the retail industry and what we can expect for the year ahead. PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Local Data Company’s latest report shows that more high street shops closed during 2011 than opened, confirming many businesses fears that 2012 is going to be tough. Companies therefore need to be looking for ways to ensure the consumer decides to spend their money with them.
Many shopping centres reported good footfall figures in Christmas trading results, despite overall retail sales figures being down. Consumers are going out to spend, it’s just they are becoming much more choosy about where and what they are spending their money on. Shopping centres are however currently in a better position to the high street following the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) January results showing footfall figures down by 2.8 per cent, compared to the high street seeing a decrease of 4.8 per cent. This is mainly due to centres being more attractive to the consumer as they offer more of a day out experience due to the other attractions such as cafes and restaurants being available onsite.
Make the experience more than just a shopping trip
Offering customers an ‘experience’ is what many shopping centres do very well and to continue to grow their businesses in 2012, it’s essential this area continues to be developed. This means carefully looking at the social side of the centre in terms of high quality bars, cinemas, cafes and restaurants, and also events throughout the year to give shoppers an added reason to visit. Events can be a major draw to shoppers especially around the seasonal calendar events such as Christmas, Easter and school half-term holidays. Giving customers a new ‘experience’ with a variety of events throughout the year will encourage repeat footfall and drive spend with retailers.
Attracting new customers is also a key aim for shopping centres as the people who come from further away are more likely to spend more time and money. You also want these people to go away and recommend the centre to family and friends. For this type of customer, giving them the day out to remember is critical; they have come to shop - but also to eat and socialise.
Think about new ways to use retail space
Shoppers need change and new experiences when they visit a centre. The key is to get the right mix of retailers which appeals to a broader mix of shoppers thereby driving footfall figures.
Not only should Centre Directors/Managers be looking at the type of retailers coming into the shopping centre, they should also be thinking about the use of retail space. Retailers themselves are trying to think differently about how they present themselves and this offers intriguing new ways to use retail space. A good example is a car sales show room on the upper mall of Basingstoke’s shopping centre, Festival Place, which has changed the profile of shoppers in this area. Pop up stores are also providing new thinking in terms of how and where goods are sold and are proving very popular with shoppers.
Communicate with retailers
Talk with your retailers and find out about any news from them that may attract shoppers. For example, H&M recently announced its David Beckham range of underwear. News like this offers shopping centres the chance to generate excitement about the new offer through competitions, promotions and updates using social media and local newspapers.
Retailers will more than likely be willing to get involved in the centre’s events too and make the proposition to shoppers more attractive through its store discounts and competition prizes.
Ask your shoppers what they think
Getting feedback from shoppers on a regular basis will open up new areas of improvement that people immersed in the business may not have been aware of. Once these areas have been identified though, it’s the implementation of these changes that will really have the impact on the business.
If customers are saying the signage isn’t clear, change it, or if the restaurant mix isn’t large enough, go out there and get a better variety. Not only do we want customers to go home happy, we want them to recommend to friends and family. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool and without this, all the clever marketing in the world won’t keep shoppers returning and spending week after week.
Steven Connolly is Centre Director of Festival Place shopping centre in Basingstoke.