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#RetailExpo19 Shopping centres must offer experiences over things

Retailers will need to "rise to the challenge of consumers wanting to do more rather than buy more," according to Kathryn Malloch, group head of customer experience at Hammerson Property, the group that runs 42 retail destinations across Europe, including London's Brent Cross and Grand Central in Birmingham.

Speaking to delegates on a panel discussion around the future role of shopping centres, Malloch said she was already addressing this reality herself, by looking at ways she can create better customer experiences in its portfolio. 

She said: "Events are already becoming key points of differentiation for us. Just recently we've had an art exhibition - a lighting installation - tour our sites, and events like these will only become more important." She added: "We've also started seeing how we can support much smaller, more local brands, with pop-up or very short lease options, that enable customers to shop with brands they just wouldn't normally expect to see at a shopping centre."

Joining Malloch in the discussion was Sue Shepherd, general manager of London Designer Outlet, Wembley Park - the UK's first urban outlet centre. She concurred, adding how the need to continually surprise visitors was even greater for her: "When you're effectively a local shopping centre, with people coming two or three times a week, rather than every so often, it's even more important people don't become bored with you," she said.

Both felt increasing demand for convenience will be the key trend that continues to drive the way shopping centres reinvent themselves (rather than the retailers within them), to stay relevant. And to meet this, both were also turning to technology. 

"Because we know people visit Wembley as part of a day out to see a concert, we've recently introduced a service that allows them to hand in all their shopping and have it to delivered to their home address by the time they get back from their evening out," said Shepherd. "It's to address the fact you can no longer bring bags into stadium venues. Everything we do has to be about making customers lives easier." 

Malloch said she is also embracing technology. She's recently introduced an app that allows customers to tag items on Instagram they're interested buying. Then, when they're at the one of her centres, similar items from retailers on their site can pop up as suggestions for them. She said: "The trend that we must all respond to is how to make shopping ever-more frictionless." 

So what of the near future - the shopping centre of 2030? To this, Malloch said: "Shopping centres will look more like department centres - in the sense of them having much more curated, relevant content, better positioned to each other." Added Shepherd: "What definitely won't go away is the need for true customer service. But what we absolutely have to do is think differently. It's why we're encouraging more of our retailers to run events in our own centre, that are exclusive to their customers - like cocktail making classes, run by Ping Pong." She added: "I definitely see it as part of my job to see how the retailers we house can be part of their customers' lifestyles."

Concluded Malloch: "Those retailers that don't change and adapt will certainly be in trouble. Those that rely on purely transactional relationships will definitely suffer. Centres that thrive will be those that create better emotional connections with their customers."