Are shopping centres a threat to theme parks?

I recently read the Retail Week article ‘How shopping centres can copy theme parks to drive engagement’ by Mel Taylor, Managing Director of Omnico Group. I agree with Mel: there is an inevitable rise in leisure offerings within retail developments. Retail survival is no longer about the largest space, but about creating experiential environments that drive footfall, dwell time and revenue.

However, I don’t think shopping centres are far behind the curve. In fact, there are already a significant number of schemes doing this successfully. Shopping centre owners and operators have long been alive to the fact that the retail consumer is a beast that can not be tamed, and they have adapted and evolved to survive.

Click & Collect, Collect +, contactless payments, mobile payments, reserve in-store, interactive displays, experiential events, engaging activities… the list genuinely does go on. Shopping centres are continually looking for the next big thing, how they can engage their demographics, entice them to visit, and make the whole experience seamless, easy and enjoyable.

A range of operators have also introduced tailored apps and beacon technology to create a fluid customer journey and further enhance the experience by offering recommendations, targeted offers and interactive guides. All of these initiatives can be seen in both shopping centres and theme parks, however, the significant advantage shopping centres have is that guests do not have to pay for entry.

Bluewater is a prime example (albeit the biggest) of the engaging experience shopping centres have to offer aside from traditional retail avenues: home to a range of attractions including Pirate Cove Adventure Park, Sega XD Theatre, Boating Lake, Parklands and Playground.

Other centres have long been following suit, with cinemas, laser tag, upmarket F&B operators, and children’s activity centres present in shopping centres across the UK and further afield. Retail parks are not far behind either, with an evident increase in the presence of notable restaurant and leisure operators.

So many retail destinations, operators and owners are leading the way with new developments and innovations that are inspiring consumers to visit rather than shop online. With the growth of internet shopping, increased competition and rising consumer power, it is vital schemes have a strong tenant mix that masterfully blends retail, F&B and leisure, and utilise all the technological developments available to enhance the guest experience.

It is great to see the industry so quickly responding to these demands, including smaller shopping centres with significantly smaller budgets that are getting creative to keep up with this change. We have seen vacant units transformed into unique advertising space,pop-up shops, experiential events and short-term seasonal lettings. Management teams are building beneficial relationships with local communities and neighbouring businesses, and hosting events such as food and drink festivals, farmers markets and craft fairs.

There are so many opportunities to get creative, and so many talented individuals within shopping centre development, management and marketing teams who have proven this. Who knows, maybe theme parks could learn a thing or two from shopping centres!

Shaunagh Durkin, Senior Consultant, Shopping Centre and Venue Management, Foundation Recruitment

Shaunagh Durkin 013 N355

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