With the extension of Westfield shopping centre in London and a few other high-profile enhancements in recent months this is still something of an anomaly. The shopping centre concept is over 70 years old and there are currently nearly 1,000 of them across the country. We have been exploring the idea of how relevant our shopping centres are now and how they should evolve to ensure longevity.
The recent collapse of major retailers in town centres and out-of-town locations was an inevitably as we have accepted that our high streets are evolving and retailers unable to adapt will disappear. It’s all about changing consumer behaviour as a direct result of digital; however its worth noting that over 70% of retail transactions take place on the physical high street – we’re simply doing things differently.
As customers we now have the convenience to shop, bank and live our lives online and this will not change, therefore shopping centres, town centres and high streets are each facing their own pressures from the radical changes. In this post we’re exploring the opportunities for traditional shopping centres, as in the past they easily attracted well-known retailers and are now struggling to retain businesses and keep the consumer interested; these centres cannot fail as they are the core of activity in many towns. It is vital that shopping centres and the wider town centres collaborate to create an experience beyond traditional retailing. Shopping centres cannot compete with the online experience but they can with vision develop an emotional connection with the consumer and multichannel selling relevant to the way we shop today.
How can this be achieved?
With the right vision it is possible to create the conditions to attract consumers and enhance their experiences. Most of us visit town centres for more than one experience right? Galleries, health centres, nurseries, crèche facilities, play zones, co-working spaces, gyms alongside business incubator spaces, pop up opportunities and experimental retail are all examples of uses that could fill some of the voids. The rise of the millennial shopper and the next generation of shoppers desire options that are local and unique to their place and enable them to promote their experiences through social media platforms, all creating a point of difference for a shopping centre and supporting the wider town in terms of footfall, revenue and dwell time.
Ashford, Kent is an excellent example where the local council purchased an ailing shopping centre with over one-third of the units that had remained vacant for 8 years and after developing a strategy to reinvigorate and support the town centre, Park Mall Ashford opened a number of businesses supporting the town centre; the first One You health shop in Kent was an opportunity to connect with local people promoting good health, they also worked with local designer makers to open Made in Ashford a shop dedicated to handmade products with over 30 businesses visible on the high street. I developed this strategy for Ashford from conception to delivery transforming Park Mall into a vibrant local community shopping centre, with a unique mix of businesses supporting the overall retail offering within Ashford rather than fighting against it. Having the conviction and vision to create an incubator hub for businesses to grow and develop out into full-blown tenants occupying under commercial terms, having the confidence to develop their strategies with support. The centre now showcases an eclectic mix of businesses increasing footfall across the entire town centre. Further new tenants included Ashford’s music and arts venue Revelation Ashford, a gift shop showcasing products handmade in the UK, a publishing company, record shop, fabric and craft shop delivering weekly workshops, Ashford’s first traditional tea room, an independent fashion store and Jewellery shop, all complimenting the existing offer.
Improved partnerships and collaboration with local stakeholders including the owners of County Square the larger shopping centre in Ashford and the opportunity as a new landlord, the council led the way in terms of creating a cleaner, safer and more diverse shopping experience. It is time for shopping centre landlords to take action and think about how their centres can work with the wider town centre offer creating places to compliment the way we live today. It is evident that adopting a collaborative approach with local councils, town and bid teams, understanding the wider town strategies and being part of the place brand vision will create shopping experiences with renewed purpose for future generations.
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