Why shopping centres must now focus on experience

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(By: James Cons, Retail Sector)

The traditional shopping centre model is currently undergoing a seismic shift. I’ve no doubt that those centres that will thrive in the coming decades will employ an entirely customer centric experiential model.

As the line between retail and leisure becomes increasingly blurred, shopping centres will need to evolve from being the physical spaces that facilitate transactions into the places that offer an engaging, memorable experience to the consumer.

For over two decades, we’ve worked on a large number of shopping centres, and as architects we hear frequent discussion about place making, and how physical spaces need to connect with their communities and to the wider public.

In future, the most successful centres will be those that are open when shoppers want and need them to be available, and they will incorporate a diversity of aspects under one roof, including social, community, cultural, educational and health uses.

Shopping centre environments will also need to accommodate adaptable, multi-purpose spaces that have the potential to host large-scale events and installations.

The early signs of this transformation become apparent when you look at some of the pioneers that are reinventing shopping centre concepts, offering curated and thematic experiences to intrigue consumers and increase footfall.

Sweden in particular has some exemplar approaches to shopping environments, including Stockholm’s MOOD mall, which offers visitors a 360 curated experience, ranging from designer furniture and clothing to artesian dining, all featured in a strikingly designed setting complete with artwork adorning the walls.

Another pioneer is Stockholm’s ReTuna, the world’s first recycling mall. Almost all of the items included for sale are donated, with a goal to eliminate waste by encouraging people to recycle. Consumers are increasingly becoming environmentally and ethically conscious, and are seeking ethical and sustainable products and fashions, as well as the assurance of a transparent supply chain.

Big brands are already adapting to this shift, and shopping centres will follow

In Germany, the heritage-listed Bikini Berlin is playing an important urban renewal role near the city’s zoo. It features a pioneering concept shopping centre, blending an exclusive retail offer with office, hotel and cultural experiences. The Bikinihaus mall features industrial chic, German crafts and curated boutique and gastro elements, while modular pop-up displays showcase hand-picked products, including by established brands and undiscovered designers.

Finally, the Q Mall in Osaka, Japan is pioneering a healthy lifestyle concept. The centre features a 300 metre circular grass running track that sits on top of the structure, while inside the mall features a climbing wall, a fitness centre and swimming pool.

Health and well-being will certainly be important aspects of future retail environments. With the stresses of increasing urban densities in our cities, our access to natural environments is also becoming increasingly important.

Biophilic design is one measure that is addressing this, by incorporating natural materials, green spaces, and other experiences drawn from nature, and is becoming recognised for addressing psychological and physical well-being. Increasingly, we’ll see elements of biophilic design incorporated into our retail spaces.

Of course, technology will also have a significant impact on the shopping centre too.

Future retail environments will be more connected than ever before – not simply in terms of physical infrastructure, such as convenient transport links, but also through digital infrastructure, where they are fully integrated with new technology.

With the era of the one-click, smartphone generation, constant technological advancements coupled with increasingly fast-paced lives mean that consumers can purchase everything almost instantly on their device.

As such, why should they visit a shopping centre? Of course, the reason to visit is for the shared experience. Arguably, the growth of online shopping has only increased the need for shopping centres to up their game and deliver an experience that cannot be digitally replicated.

There is no longer a strict divide between the physical and the digital. Instead, we have a merged reality, the ‘phygital’. Global players like Amazon understand the value of engaging directly with customers by introducing real-life stores that are also wholly integrated into their digital world, where customers pay via the amazon go app.

The influence of social media is also driving the consumer’s search for their next ‘experience’.

Future shopping centres will undoubtedly enrich customer experiences, integrating cutting-edge tech as part of their design. This may facilitate premium levels of service and customer interaction, such as dedicated wellness zones and smart changing rooms (which use next-generation technology to create responsive environments that tailor services to assist customers to find exactly what they want), and staging areas to showcase exciting new products and host fun activities.

This will bring with it a revolution in creative design, delivering inspirational go-to destinations and community hubs that inspire loyalty and ensure customers return. As architects, that means we must not only redefine how we design shopping centres, but also how we repurpose existing ones.

Evidently, in order to stay ahead of the curve, successful centres will present a distinctive offering, and host a mixture of uses, feature a unique brand identity, and integrate social value and experience.

It’s clear that in future an attractive shopping environment will need to include far more than retail to drive footfall.

The article is originally published HERE on May 8, 2019.