Why retail programming will outshine product

16 : 11 : 2018 Retail : Fashion : Customer Experience

Inspired by members’ clubs, hobbies and national holidays, a new template is emerging for a successful shopping experience, writes FRCH’s Emily Hamilton.

Coal Drops Yard, London. Photography by John Sturrock Coal Drops Yard, London. Photography by John Sturrock

A strong gauge of successful retail programming is how quickly you can get anonymous visitors to speak to one another.

Emily Hamilton, director of brand marketing, FRCH

With 25% of shopping centres forecast to close within the next five years, ‘mall’ is becoming the new four-letter word that many dare not utter – especially those in the retail sector.

Developers around the world are already busy rebranding their current and future projects. Now they are mixed-use centres, hybrid destinations, community spaces, precincts, platforms – new terms that aim to define the evolution of the shopping mall. But no matter what you call it, a new template is emerging for a successful shopping experience. It has little to do with the products offered; instead it’s about programming.

Adding new variables to traditional tenants, taking retail and restaurants, and layering not just entertainment but culture and community. These range from test kitchens to ‘mummy and me’ yoga. They’re experiences that cannot be replicated online, held at unique destinations with differentiated offerings. In fact, such event-orientated spaces are no longer seen as a bonus – they are, and will be, an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating the shopping centre of the future. For retail brands, programming is the ultimate investment in the future of their space.

As seen with the rise of social club and co-working hybrids like The Wing and The Collective, the key to member participation is relevant programming. For retailers and developers, there is a benefit to following suit, as not only does this community-building ethos help to attract new visitors, it ensures existing customers remain engaged. With this in mind, retail developers must think of their visitors not as shoppers but members, elevating their experience to better anticipate their needs before they even ask.

Coal Drops Yard, London. Photography by John Sturrock Coal Drops Yard, London. Photography by John Sturrock
Explore global festivities and wider religious traditions, adopting a mix-and-match attitude to connect with different demographics.

For example, if a developer knows that local residents and workers are likely to be creatives, why not host a Photoshop editing class on-site, after which attendees can share their experience over drinks at one of the centre’s bars? The ability to connect like-minded people to inspire, educate or entertain is a powerful service to offer.

As a result, a strong gauge of successful programming is how quickly you can get visitors to speak to one another, rather than anonymously browse the space. You can’t create a true community if there is no engagement, and again, personalised programming can conjure familiarity between strangers. It’s here that the physical space can provide opportunities for shoppers to start a dialogue. Retailers and developers must augment the environment to encourage interaction. Build communal spaces such as lounges, flexible green space, co-working environments, and even built-in entertainment venues within stores. As a central point of connection, the best brands will emerge as treasured conversation-starters.

It is also crucial to think beyond the holidays. The focus for special events should no longer centre on Black Friday and the holiday season – modern consumers increasingly celebrate secular occasions such as Pride Week and Singles Day. Explore the variety of global festivities and wider religious traditions that fit with your target audience and adopt a mix-and-match attitude to connect with different demographics and individuals in order to remain relevant.

As we look to the early 2020s, forward-thinking brands and developers will be those looking beyond product and customer service to instead make a more fundamental connection with their audience. They will present visitors with an elevated experience, while offering meaningful programming that inspires, educates and entertains, forging a more engaged community, and in turn, more loyal customers.

Emily Hamilton is director of brand marketing at design and architectural firm FRCH Design Worldwide. Subscribers can explore the four major trends set to shape the future of mall retail in our dedicated Listicle.