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How shopping centres can remain relevant in 2013

Once the recession started to recede, many struggling shopping centres expected consumer spending to pick up. This didn’t happen - instead, a new shopping context has emerged in SA with many recessionary shopping patterns having become habitual.

In 2012, Yellowwood Future Architects identified several key trends in shopper behaviour: 

  • A focus on the in-store experience which will see retailers and manufacturers collaborating to provide experiential shopping
  • A 'solution' shop where retailers and manufacturers offer shoppers 'solutions' to their daily shopping problems
  • The growing impact of smartphones and the Internet on shopper behaviour
  • Rise of the 'quick trip'

The experience

Shopping centres have been devising how they can make a visit to the centre an 'experience' for decades.  Recent examples include the Snow World at Canal Walk in Cape Town, where families can come to experience a winter wonderland for Christmas; and the Gateway Mall in Durban which is perhaps the most 'experience' focused local mall.

Yet these sorts of attractions are generally limited to the larger malls and are mainly focused on entertainment rather than the act of shopping itself.  So how can smaller malls create an 'experience' for shoppers?

Colman Architects has proposed that an Accounting Suite be built within the shopping centre where representatives would be available to help shoppers with their budgets in making their purchases.  CommArts suggested that shopping centres of the future would be places where food is grown, crafts created, products manufactured, energy generated and education provided. Smaller centres are well positioned to deliver a local, grassroots experience - a counteraction to an increasingly digital and globalised social experience.

Also, how can the shopping centre experience be made more convenient for moms with young children or babies?  Perhaps providing a stroller service where moms can put down a deposit and get the use of a specially designed stroller with space for shopping bags might be an idea worth exploring.  This would save her the hassle of having to load and unload her own stroller from the car and make the whole experience more convenient.

The 'solution' shop

Brands like Woolworths (Meals for Four For R150), Knorr (Dinner Tonight) and Koo (Mama Koo) have made use of this trend to offer meal solutions, recipes and packages to time poor customers to shortcut the planning process and offer convenience.  However, shopping centres are in prime position to take this approach to the next level.

One could take the Colman idea one step further and suggest that centres could provide kiosks or information desks where shoppers could look up recipes, gift ideas, etc; and be told what they could buy, which shops stock it and at what price.  This could even be tailored according to a budget - taking into account the new, more frugal spending habits of consumers, their need for convenience and their penchant for planning prior to purchase.

Rise of the 'quick trip'

The strategy most commonly adopted by shopping centres has been to try and keep shoppers in the centre for as long as possible, with the idea that the longer a shopper spends in the mall, the more he/she is likely to spend.

However, the recession has changed how most people shop - instead of going to a shopping centre and browsing, many are doing their planning beforehand.  They know exactly what they want to buy and from which store. This has largely benefitted convenience retailers like Woolworths Food stores. 

Yet there is no reason why shopping centres can't take advantage of this new dynamic.  One way could be to provide an application or service where shoppers are able to search for an item and be told which store has it, where that store is in the centre and how much the item costs.  One could also have a service where shoppers are able to select items online from several different stores and then collect and pay for these items at a central point in the centre.

Smartphones and online shopping

In 2010, online shopping was valued at R2 billion with growth projections of around 30%.  The massive growth in smartphone ownership is likely to accelerate this trend even further.  So where does this leave the shopping centre?

Just as retailers cannot expect to succeed if their website merely has a list of their inventory, neither can shopping centres expect to compete with online shopping if their use of the Internet includes only a website listing tenants and upcoming events.  Many of the ideas mentioned in this article could be implemented on a website or through a smartphone application.  In addition, incentives could be offered on the website or app if the shopper physically visits the mall. 

By thinking creatively and putting the consumer's needs first, shopping centres can remain relevant - and in fact become more of an attraction - in the years ahead. 


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