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Comment: Kieron Weedon of BWP on opening destinations to create a reason to shop

If whatever we want is only a couple of clicks away on our increasingly smart devices, then why should we waste our precious time shopping in a physical space?

Humans are hardwired to seek out and relish new experiences, but what is new about shops and shopping? One answer may be that because we now spend so much time in the digital world, offline opportunities are a breath of fresh air.

With shopping centre development and openings set to hit a four-year high in 2017, savvy stores can meet the challenge of tough economic times and declining footfall if they have the ability to imagine, adapt and innovate. Beyond great products, great customer experiences can invigorate brand identity.

The best retail venues have become places of discovery that capture the emotional interest of consumers. Most shopping centres are now entertainment hubs in their own right with leisure time magnets including cafés, cinemas, event spaces and even theme parks. Westfield UK’s above-and-beyond strategy includes hosting free customer events, cookery classes and providing personal stylists. This approach helped Westfield’s London venues attract more than 70 million customer visits to generate combined annual sales of £2.1bn last year.

Studies have shown that 72% of digital shoppers consider in-store experience to be the most important channel when making a purchase. Individual stores have an opportunity to exploit this by connecting with their customers through the power of entertainment and hands-on activity. Foresight, research and intelligent branding can ensure that, even before the first customer crosses the threshold of a new or reinvented shopping venue, everything is in place to optimise the experience for a particular audience. Get it right and sales will follow.

Two complementary pre-launch strategies can help to ensure memorable and successful openings.

The first is to prioritise clarity of mission and purpose. This is the key ingredient that will allow venues to attract both the right star player stores and those in the supporting cast. Listening to potential customers is crucial, as is the development of laser-sharp analytics of demographics, retail trends and social connectivity. All of this information can be used to tell a seductive proposition and venue story that will develop in impact as it attracts and incorporates brands. An immersive customer experience will emerge from the sum of all the right parts, in the right place and at the right time to drive footfall.

The second strategy emerges from the first.  Once all the elements have been developed through research on retail trends, location and customer profiles, venues can tell that story loud and clear in outbound marketing campaigns. This might appear as outdoor advertising, billboards, leaflets, brochures, direct mail, PR, social media campaigns or one-off events. No matter what the channel, the story is key and the importance of integrating customer experience within an evolving brand story cannot be overstated.

A recent unique event demonstrates the value of such a strategy. IKEA took advantage of the great opportunity offered by opening a new destination store in Reading to refresh and extend its well-known brand story. To celebrate the opening, the retailer took in-house outside by creating a three-level Husbåt (house-boat), stocked with IKEA products that had particular relevance for Thames Valley customers.

Research had revealed that this target demographic was particularly concerned with sustainability and, laden with sustainable products, the vessel toured the Thames showcasing the store’s values and commitment. Customers on board were literally transported to an immersive Scandinavian experience.

Opening new destinations is a great way to envelop potential customers in a brand’s message and create lasting impressions. Shoppers need a reason to go shopping and the new strategies to encourage them are fun, memorable and profitable. Momentum is building to generate business through pleasure.

Kieron Weedon is director of strategy at BWP