Does the local shopping centre still have a future?


Local shopping centres are like Marmite; you either love them or hate them but there is no doubting we have accepted them as ‘the‘ way to shop offline. They are part of our lives and they are here to stay. We love them because everything is under one roof; there is free parking; you can shop whatever the weather and they are convenient; and we hate them because they are crowed; when you eventually get into the car park it is hard to find a space; they can be a bit soulless and uninspiring! For professional reasons, I am not going to reveal which camp I fall into but the ‘shopping centre debate‘ really does polarise opinion.

Whilst this love/hate relationship need not necessarily be a problem for the larger & out of town developments, for the ‘neighbourhood‘ centres, which for a long-time have been a central part of many towns‘ appeal, it poses a huge threat to their very existence. Gone are the days where you can rely on the community to stay loyal as locals are being lured away by longer opening times and a greater choice of shops and entertainment. So, where does this leave the humble neighbourhood development and does it have a future?

Large centres invest thousands – if not millions – into their brand propositions. I am not for one minute suggesting that their smaller cousins can compete on an equal footing when it comes to budgets but they can take the time to develop a visual identity and brand that is engaging, relevant and appealing. A brand needs to be consistent and run from signage right the way through to online and direct marketing platforms. If it is done right then it will inspire staff and create real engagement but the process needs to be an on-going part of the business. However, this was just the start as creating a new brand is one thing but keeping it alive is another.

Our insight and experience of working in the sector for many years – including the turnaround of Merseyway in Stockport – means we can give some fairly well educated advice and practical tips to help local developments keep their existing customers engaged whilst attracting a new audience…

Collaboration is crucial

Local centres must work with the local council and be seen as part of the community. Support local events, allow the centre to be used as a venue, engage with local schools, sponsor a local football team…the more a centre is seen out and about in the community the more people will stay local.

Give your centre a face

Shopping centres can be a bit faceless and lack personality. More often than not, they rely on tenants to do the talking so the customer develops relationship with them. So, try to expose the people who work for the centre, talk about the team in press releases or advertising activity and get ‘faces‘ out into the local community. When asking for customers to get in touch via email give them an actual name rather than an info@ – it‘s all about being visible and being personal. When marketing activity is underway, it should be led by the centre‘s brand and it shouldn‘t get lost behind a sea of retailer logos; they are important but they are already recognised!

Engage with retailers

We all know retailers are having a hard time, and we‘ve seen smaller centres take their tenants for granted, so it‘s vital to work in partnership with them; one easy way is by staging joint activity. It doesn‘t necessarily have to be offer related but it does have to be mutually beneficial. The kind of things that work well include; getting them involved in sponsoring some community activity with you and offering work experience to local schools…The key is that it needs to be more engaging than the usual price driven message.

Understand and widen your catchment area

Every research programme we have undertaken has showed that catchment areas of shoppers are much-much wider than you would think. This kind of insight is crucial –