A (half) day out at the shops

June 9, 2012

It’s not often that I get a day out, or to be honest in this case a half day out, but with research taking place close by I had the opportunity to visit Stratford City, the new(ish) Westfield scheme.  And how interesting it was, I really should do it more often.

Approaching the centre from the train station, Stratford City is much more understated than its sister over in White City.  There is no grand entrance from the direction I walked and therefore the sense I got was of entering some huge space but having no sense of the scale.  Thankfully a printed mall guide was available which folded out into something larger than a sheet of A3 paper, the store list alone filling half of one side but despite that the font size was tiny that I don’t know how many people will actually be able to read it.  The challenge is that with so many stores and restaurants how on earht do you put it all down on paper – or alternatively why bother – or maybe just use electronic guides? 

First port of call the loos.  Always a good place to start since they are often indicative of a centre.  Wow!  Were they smart, clean, no spotless, and I guess they would be described by some one more poetic than me as elegantly modern.  This gave out all the right signals and even better, they were free!  (Always a point of much debate, “to charge or not to charge”, but in my mind anything that promotes dwell time is a good thing and with all these restaurants around you need to feel comfortable).

Walking around I was struck by the clever use of the overall space.  Hats off to the designers, it must have been tricky building around a major transport interchange, but the use of multiple floors gives it scale without giving the impression that you are walking miles and miles.  

You really will not starve in Stratford City. The food and drink choice is quite frankly both exciting and dare I say it baffling.  I can only believe that either a) the high footfall will allow every outlet to get its fair share or b) the winners and losers will be clear very quickly and we will see some rapid changes in the catering line up quite soon.

The fast food court was not open fully when I arrived, but McDonald’s was serving breakfast.  What I was struck by however was the number of tables laid out in 4s.  This is interesting since I cannot believe that the party size at Stratford City is significantly different from the average of less than 2 people. In short poor use of the available tables and chairs.

Despite the amount of catering I was slightly surprised by the lack of seating in the open areas.  There is nothing like a quick re-cap of where you are and where you want to go – even struggling with the equivalent of an Ordnance Survey map of the centre – and you don’t always want to buy another tea/coffee/smoothie just to sit down.

Whilst covered centres are extremely popular for all the obvious reason to some they are almost claustrophobic.  Westfield have tried to alleviate this with an outdoor area they have called The Street.  This is great idea and since you can loop out and then back into the covered malls it gives a sense of ‘getting some air’.  Unfortunately on the morning of my visit The Street was acting like a wind tunnel so I suspect few people would want to stay outside long.

What did strike me however was the sense of lack of maintenance.  The leather chairs and sofas were already looking tired, but more concerning was that several internal (yes internal) signs were missing letters so rather than giving directions to ‘the Street’ what I read was to ‘he treet’.  As ever even in such a huge scheme it is the little things that matter, the attention to detail that makes the difference, and shows your shoppers that you care.

All in all a great centre, in all senses of the word.  Some parts still to be completed I know, but I look forward to returning again to see not only what it looks like completely finished but also to see if the maintenance teams have been a little more active.

Banking on good service?

July 29, 2010

Interesting to see the launch of a new bank Metro Bank today and its intention to place customer service at the heart of its offer, and to use the shopping mall as it model.

We know from our own work in retail that good service remains the number one issue for all shopping centres, so making this a key differential is both a brave and commendable move. I’m not sure their rates will tempt me to open an account however I may well mystery visit them just to see exactly what it is that make them different.

Whose tips are they anyway?

November 26, 2008

The Government has published ‘Service Charges, Tips, Gratuities and Cover Charges: A Consultation’ which seeks views on how the law should be changed to prevent employers using tips or service charges to bring employees’ pay up to the level of the national minimum wage.

I have no doubt that they will receive plenty of views on this as it is a highly emotive subject as you will know if you have any involvement in the operation of a restaurant.  Through staff surveys Business Blueprints discovered 90% of a typical front of house team believe that the tips are entirely theirs as a personal affirmation of their excellent work from their customers.

The most important perspective on this I believe is that of the customer and their intention when they left the additional sum of money over and above the bill for their meal.  At Business Blueprints on a number of occasions we have gained insight through research with regular restaurant users in both focus groups and quantitative studies as to the reasons why they leave a tip and who they intend to receive it.   30% of customers do not leave a tip because the food and/or the service was not good enough.  85% who leave a tip intend for the money to be left equally for the team that created a great experience including attentive service, a caring atmosphere and delicious food.    All the aspects that Business Blueprints seeks to measure in a mystery visit to reflect the likelihood of a person returning to and recommending a restaurant.

And then there is the employers’ or restauranteurs’ perspective – they build a typical high street restaurant at today’s rates for anywhere between £400k and £1,000,000, pay the rent or mortgage, they hand pick the staff, train them, buy all the food, create a ambience that guests appreciate and want to come back to, provide the equipment to cook the food on, provide the recipes and the motivation to do all the above consistently!

What other business or industry is there an external influence on how any income generated by the business is distributed amongst the people who work there – other than ensuring that the statutory and good employee regulations are maintained?

The “restaurant” that creates a memorable experience that can be relished, recommended and repeated will always be rewarded with a good tip!  Surely it is therefore up to the “restaurant” to decide the best way to distribute the “restaurant ” income in order to encourage and reward the team just like any other business – If they decide to in an unjust manner then the business will suffer just like any other.