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.

Measuring Marketing

August 17, 2010

In our recent survey of shopping centre managers, we found that 80% of shopping centres were commissioning advertising to promote themselves. What surprised us was that only 50% of shopping centres were measuring how effective their advertising was.

Marketing budgets can be enormous, with huge TV ad campaigns, but without market research it is impossible to tell if your message is getting to the right people and if it is influencing their behaviour.

Lord Leverhulme famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the problem is I do not know which half.” Without this type of feedback on marketing campaigns some shopping centres will never know.

Websites are *so* last century

August 9, 2010

In our recent survey of shoping centres, nearly all shopping centres now have a website, giving details of store listings, opening times and how to get there. Where the industry seems to be lagging behind other sectors is in the use of new social media to promote and grow their brand, as well as other uses such as readily available feedback for research purposes.

4-out-of-10 centres are taking tentative steps in to this brave new world, but many lack the expertise or time to manage an increasingly important media for commuincating with their customer base. Business Blueprint have developed a social media product, Diamonds, which cultivates a group of key target customers and brand advocates who will freely give their opinions on your brand.

False Positives

July 27, 2010

In a recent piece of research amongst shopping centre managers, we found that all the centres we spoke to are tracking footfall as part of measuring the performance of their centres. Footfall is useful figure  and a common currency that everyone can understand as it gives a broad indication of how a scheme is performing, so we weren’t that surprised by this result. What did surprise us was that less than 15% of centres were measuring their conversion.

Knowing footfall has gone up would lead you to believe that your centre is performing better, but if your conversion has dropped, you may actually have less people spending money than you had before.  So the centre may actually be performing worse in financial terms, but someone only tracking footfall may well believe that their centre is actually improving, and the root of the problem will never be looked in to.

By measuring other metrics such as conversion and party spend you can get a more accurate picture of the health of your scheme.

Designs on the future…

February 1, 2010

An interesting piece in this week’s Retail Week from Martha Lane Fox (subscription required). I quote from it here:

“I think stores, especially flagship ones, will not stock so much product and instead become a showcase for the brand with the opportunity to offer experiences and events to shoppers – a way of connecting customers with their values. Customers will then be able to order products via the web and collect them from local depots or central collection points.”

I happen to largely agree with this vision, but the big question is where does that take us? And following on from this, what does it mean in terms of store design and layout? Will shop units need to be so large, and if so what is to be done with all the space that will give us?

All good questions, I trust someone somewhere is looking for some answers.

It’s Cyber Monday

December 7, 2009

For those who didn’t already know it today, Monday 7th December, is set to be the biggest day for online shopping this year. Obviously many of you won’t actually read about this until Tuesday since you will be busy elsewhere in the internet!

Apparently we are likely to spend around £350m, according to IMRG. Interestingly our own research into Christmas shopping showed exactly what we will be both researching on the internet and actually buying this year.

The most popular product categories for ‘researching’ on the internet will remain CDs/DVDs/music (52% of those researching online will look at this category), ahead of books/stationery/cards (43%) and toys and games (40%). However electrical items (43%) appear set to be much more popular for internet research this year compared to our results from last year.

Items that will actually be ‘purchased’ on the internet are again headed by small entertainment goods such as CD/s and DVDs (54% of those who will buy on line will buy within this category), ahead of books/stationery/cards (43%) and toys and games. Internet clothes shopping appears to have fallen back vs. last year, whilst electrical good have held their own. The former may represent the best opportunities for off-line retailers, however we also know that this is the most popular product category for holding back on in anticipation of sales!

Virtual Malls revisited?

November 27, 2009

I know we’ve seen these before, but the latest version seems more interesting; although having said that despite the media coverage it doesn’t actually appear to be live just yet – maybe a case of the PR release going out a little too soon.

Going under the name NearLondon, a new web site will offer a virtual shopping trip around central London, apparently consisting of Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street in a slimmed down SecondLife style.

It appears that a number of major retailers have signed up to NearLondon already, which will allow browsing ahead of any real visits to London, as well as actual purchases to be made online. Interestingly, there is some talk in the media of replacing the traiditonal shop layout with more interesting interfaces: catwalks for fashion and stadiums for sports.

Shopping centres as brands

September 4, 2009

A couple of thoughts for today.  Firstly, can a shopping centre ever be more than the name of a large building?  And if not, what can be done about an existing name should there ever be a need to change? 

In the best traditions of yes, no and maybe I’ll go with ‘maybe’ in the first instance. Yes, there are shopping centre brands but they are quite a rare species.  Much of this is down to sheer scale but its not just about scale it’s also about personality, and daring to be different, but quite frankly again there are only a few centres that have the capacity to be different.  In many cases, however, I would suggest that a shopping centre brand is no more than a trading name, a badge on the front of a large building within which are housed a number of true brands in the form of shops and restaurants.  Whilst the desire to create a brand is not of itself wrong, the reality is that few centres will ever mature into ‘brands’.   Rather an arrogant statement BUT it is not about just an aspirational, clever or connected name.  It is about an experience which starts with a name and becomes synonymous with everything you do – the type of shops, the service style, the people you employ, the way you treat your suppliers and indeed your tenants. It is about every little thing and all the little but extremely clever, thoughtful touches that create a unique and memorable event.

The other issue that is related to this is the one of naming. One of the challenges for shopping centres is that once a particular centre is named it is quite difficult to re-educate shoppers into the use of the new name.  We’ve recently conducted research amongst users of a large urban shopping mall whose name was changed more than 5 years ago.  Even amongst users correct name recall was only around 80%, and that is amongst shoppers using the scheme on average once a week. 

Recent coverage was given to the decision by Wyevale Garden centres to revert to their ‘local’ brand names, on the basis that people have more of an affinity for a local centre.  I feel confident that the new Chief Exec conducted more research than just taking his Mother’s view before making such a big decision. Having driven past my local Wyevale sorry Brighton Garden Centre, the new signage did look very nice and I am sure a signage company (local I hope) is mighty relieved of the order in such hard times!  Whilst I can see the appeal of this “house of brands” approach in terms of playing the local card, which from all the research we have conducted we wholeheartedly support, people would far rather go local than a chain as long as you get better quality in terms of service and products. I wonder about the practicalities of marketing so many different locations, a single national brand would certainly give more bangs for the buck.  Or is the marketing being decentralised and are the Garden Centre Managers becoming marketing as well as Gardening experts?  

I am really excited about visiting my local Brighton Garden Centre to experience the new proposition and become more emotionally connected with all the changes they have implemented to make it feel independent/local beyond the pristine signage.  I will let you know what I find…

Why track party size?

August 7, 2009

This is question we are often asked, “can you explain to me why you track the size of shopper parties amongst shopping centre visitors and also why you ask spend questions of the shopper party not the individual level?”

Well, we know on average that around 60% of shopper parties are solus shoppers, in other words for these people the individual spend and the party spend is one and the same, but let us consider the other shopper groups. Let us take the example of a shopper group. Mum, dad and the ‘little un’ who is only 4 years old. Let us consider £30 spent by them on their shopping trip. The £30 was spent by the mother, but the actual cash came from the father’s bank account via cash point machine and wallet. The £30 was actually spent on clothing and toys for their daughter.

So is this spend by the mother the father or the child? Is this actually £10 per head or is it more meaningful to keep this at the £30 per party level?

Party size remains a key statistic for shopping centre managers. A fall in average party size combined with constant footfall can indicate a rise in the number of shopper parties and hence it is vital to measure spend at the party size too.

Are those my numbers?

June 30, 2009

It is always pleasing when a client actually quotes us, and in the Daily Telegraph recently we read just that. In an article about Liverpool, Iain MacGillivray, Centre Manager for St Johns Shopping Centre, quoted some average spend figures directly from surveys that we have undertaken in his centre. This helped to show that even in the midst of a recession and with the recent opening of Liverpool One, the new 42-acre shopping centre on their doorstep, average spend per shopper party had risen by around £2 per trip from £24.96 in Spring 08 to £27.05 in Spring 09. This is great for Iain and St Johns since it proves independently of anything he thinks what has actually been going on. It is critical at this time with only footfall as an indicator of performance which has a +/- accuracy of 10% and random feedback from retailers that you know how well you are performing – especially when the pressure from underperforming retailers is probably at its peak. There is nothing more effective and powerful than being able to confidently talk about your business and be able to quantify your customers behaviour and their opinions and thus help the retailers in your centre to understand their context and their potential.

No hunches, no gut feel, no finger in the air, just good solid facts direct from your own shoppers. On a personal level it is particularly pleasing to see just exactly what insights we can bring through our unique brand of shopping centre research. I can’t think of a better advert for us, thank you Iain.