Shopping centres are often critical about the customer experience their retailers offer, but what are they doing to match up to changing customer expectations and evolving technology? That’s the question Avijit Yadav, general manager marketing & operations, GLA Property Management Company, posed to shopping centre developers and managers in the session he moderated.
It’s not easy for developers to keep pace with the evolution of technology and changing customer expectations, admits Dimitri Vazelakis, executive managing director–shopping malls, Majid Al Futtaim Properties, but shopping malls have evolved successfully when they’ve partnered with their tenants to re-invent themselves and achieve common goals.
“Malls are evolving from selling products to providing a holistic environment for customers to shop, dine, socialise, get entertained, stay fit and so on. When redeveloping our malls such as Deira City Centre and Mall of the Emirates, we take a fresh look at how relevant our tenants are to our customers. We undertake redevelopment to ensure they remain relevant to their catchment and customer base,” he points out.
The way shopping malls meet customer expectations is constantly evolving. Speed is of the essence, because they are competing with a diverse range of offline and online properties for a share of their customers’ time. Phil Evans, CEO, TriGranit Group, points out that historically, retailers have been far ahead of malls in re-inventing themselves to survive in their markets, but malls are catching up fast. He says it’s crucial for mall managements to harness the growing influence of e-commerce and social media and work closely with their retailers to attract the right customers.
“We’ve attempted different ways to engage our customers in Europe. For example, we offer free Wi-Fi to visitors in our malls. They can also download a mobile app while in the mall to access offers valid for that particular day. We’ve also set up a collection hub at one of our shopping centres to attract online shoppers who need to visit the mall to take deliveryof what they order,” he explains.
Raja Abdulkhader, director, Line Investments & Property, has more to say about the role shopping centres play in multicultural societies such as the UAE. They can create unique retail opportunities and events in their common areas and lease temporary spaces to kiosks to celebrate religious and cultural festivals of different nationalities, he points out.
“At the end of the day, shopping centres have to offer what their customers demand,” Abdulkhader observes. “They cannot afford to stop innovating and evolve from function-driven to experience-driven offerings. They need to market themselves like retail brands, but that requires a collective effort with all their tenants.” Mohammad Alawi, CEO, Red Sea Markets Co, points to another set of problems encountered in Saudi Arabia that’s putting a brake on developing new malls – rising land costs and limited financing options. So many existing malls are studying the feasibility of re-inventing themselves because, like in the UAE, malls are the preferred venue for social activities and entertainment in the country.
“Community malls should be proactive in engaging with their communities, creating social and cultural activities on a dailybasis to attract participation. We encourage our retailers in Red Sea Mall to utilise all possibilities of modern technology for their marketing and social campaigns. Having said that, I feel shopping centres need to do a lot more than just try to catch up with technological advancements,” says Alawi.
“Providing memorable experiences does not necessarily have to be driven by technology. In Kuwait, we ferry our customers on golf carts from the parking lot to the mall entrance and offer them bottled water during summer. They say they feel pampered by such services, which make them want to return to our malls,” adds Yadav.
“Even if the customer journey is initiated with the help of technology and mobile devices, customers need to treated like special people when they enter a shopping centre. So great customer service in malls is critical for getting repeat customers,” says Vazelakis to clinch the argument.