Shopping centres still have a role to play in the increasingly online retail world, but they need to evolve.

There will always be a need for ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping. If shopping centres focus on evolving the experience they offer to work alongside online retail, they could continue to have a place in the omnichannel world of the future.
By
Neil Happs

March 26, 2018

In a recent survey we conducted by about shopping trends, two thirds of the UK (65%) say they want their shopping centre to reflect the local area, and an even higher proportion (68%) think that shopping centres should all look and feel different. There are strong views about the look and feel of a shopping centre providing a sense of individuality and place, but when it comes to what the shopping centre is called, the majority (63%) are not that bothered.

This explains why almost all of the UK’s shopping centres have very localised identities and names. For example; Trinity Leeds (Leeds), Gunwharf Quays (Portsmouth), Cabot Circus (Bristol) etc.

A shopping centre, put very simply, has traditionally been a named container for well known retail brands. Westfield changed this model and has successfully made the shopping centre itself into a distinctive brand. They recognised the threat from online retail and built Westfield London (2008) and Stratford City (2011) as modern leisure and entertainment destinations.

However, rebranding existing shopping centres is a little different from building new ones as they come with heritage and history. In 2013 Capital Shopping Centres (CSC) made the decision to rebrand as ‘intu’ and add the new name to its shopping centres (e.g. intu Lakeside, Essex). This trend will soon become more evident across the country as intu is very likely to be taken over by Hammerson (another major shopping centre owner). Hammerson plans to create a much bigger chain of ‘intu’ shopping centres; but will it create a strong brand?

Naming all their shopping centres ‘intu’ needs to have some meaning for it to become a coherent brand. The brand needs to bring with it a consistent and distinct ‘intu-ness’ for it to make sense.

 “You can only do so much to re-imagine a shopping mall, and they’ve tried here in Los Angeles, but it’s like trying to reinvent the horse and carriage. No matter how much you try you can’t turn a horse into a Tesla. It’s not going to happen”

Eric Schiffer, CEO of private equity investor the Patriarch Organization (Reuters)


You can’t turn a horse into a Tesla, but when horses stopped being a transport necessity they became a leisure activity. Consumers are increasingly going online for their purchasing necessity, so the shopping centre needs to alter its focus and become more of a leisure activity. There is an opportunity for Hammerson to associate the intu brand experience with a chain of multi-occasion destinations that will complement, rather than compete with, online retail.


For example:


Although Hammerson is going against the status quo in developing a chain of branded shopping centres, the addition of the ‘intu’ hallmark, if it represents a consistent promise, will create a powerful proposition and reason to visit.


There will always be a need for ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping. If shopping centres focus on evolving the experience they offer to work alongside online retail, they could continue to have a place in the omnichannel world of the future.


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