Call me predictable but Christmas really is my favourite time of year. Festive lights, trees and decorations, and the top 100 Christmas songs on repeat wherever you go (I am aware this sounds like some people’s worst nightmare). What makes it so much more exciting is the effort Town, City and Shopping Centre Management teams put in to making their individual offerings unique and alluring.
Teams are continually collaborating to produce new initiatives that drive the experience for different ages, cultures and social groups, because decorations and Santa’s Grotto are no longer enough. So while temperatures are dropping across the country, the temptation to venture out is definitely rising.
To add some sparkle to the traditional Christmas light switch on event, teams are looking for exciting celebrities and live entertainment to take to the stage, a sure way to drive footfall to any event.
And while guests are stood outside in the cold? Many shopping centres are offering their own take on German markets offering warm beverages, mulled wine and festive treats. Fill your boots!
Brent Cross has introduced Christmas on the Patio outside John Lewis, featuring a choice of food and drink stalls, a Christmas carousel and rides. So while parents enjoy a glass or two of mulled wine, little ones can enjoy the other entertainment on offer.
Liverpool ONE has turned Chavasse Park into a frozen wonderland with the return of the Ice Festival including children’s rides, market stalls, après bar, ice rink, ice bar and the UK’s largest real ice slide.
Never one to be left by the wayside, Cheshire Oaks has erected Europe’s largest walk-in artificial tree with 100,000 baubles, and the entire outlet has been transformed into a festive wonderland with an après themed bar and Christmas market stalls.
The Rock, Bury, launched its Rock ‘it with Santa Parade with a festive band, carol singing, free sleigh rides, and a pop-up Elf Workshop hosting activities like face painting and gingerbread decorating. The team are also launching their new Grotto and The Rock Express which is a free train ride around the scheme which will take donations for a local children’s charity.
Santa’s traditional grotto is now too a thing of the past. The Polar Expedition at intu Trafford Centre is an exciting sensory experience where families can venture through the North Pole, witnessing the Northern Lights and meeting Eskimo Elves before meeting the man himself. The Polar Expedition can be found in the arctic wonderland in Barton Square, including festive stalls offering treats, gifts, food and mulled wine, and a Victorian carousel. intu Trafford Centre is also hosting the intu Christmas Wheel, the largest transportable observational wheel in the UK, offering panoramic views of the Bridgewater Canal, MediaCityUK and Old Trafford.
Taking things one step further and incorporating new technology and trends, British Land has launched an augmented reality game, in some ways similar to Pokémon Go. The festive campaign ‘Freezy’s Christmas Adventure’ has been launched across 21 centres and is a five step virtual reality game that can be downloaded to mobile devices and takes families on a present hunt around centres.
Shopping centres are also offering their own festive themed pop-ups including Christmas wrapping services, and temporary retail units like calendars, Christmas decorations and cards. Marks and Spencer has a Christmas pop-up shop in Royal Priors, Leamington, operating in addition to the main store selling festive foods, toys and Christmas necessities.
Whatever you are looking for this festive season, there is sure to be an entertaining, memorable Christmas experience close to home. What I look forward to most is seeing what innovative and enchanting ideas the teams come up with next Christmas time as they have given themselves a difficult performance to live up to. The shopping centre sector is continually evolving and it is encouraging to see it embracing new trends and projects to drive footfall, dwell time, brand loyalty and fundamentally sales.
Shaunagh Durkin, Senior Consultant, Shopping Centre and Venue Management, Foundation Recruitment