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Art of rehumanising retail to attract shoppers

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Mostly gone are the days of the friendly neighbourhood corner store, or the local butcher putting aside your favourite cut of meat –  a place where people knew your name. For most consumers in recent years, this intimate approach has been replaced by the convenience of online shopping, speed of self-checkout and ease of large multiproduct retailers.

Like most trends, everything old is new again and in 2017 we have come full circle. Consumers are once again seeking the human element, a desire to feel connected, and retailers are taking notice.

The launch of Legoland at Chadstone Shopping Centre. The launch of Legoland at Chadstone Shopping Centre.  Photo: Eddie Jim

“Placemaking” is an industry buzzword often used to define a multifaceted approach to retail, and support examples of how developers and shopping centre owners have transcended simple bricks and mortar, beyond fashion and food to holistic leisure concepts. Retailers now create destinations, places where people can meet and share experiences; the beauty parlour or barber is back – and it’s probably located in your local Westfield.

To place-make successfully centres seek tenants that deliver a point of difference. Legoland Discovery Centre Chadstone, Melbourne, which opens on April 18, is the first Australian concept store for the Danish toy giant.

This new to market concept takes centre stage in the recently completed $600 million Chadstone redevelopment, reinforcing their commitment to improved offerings and customer experience.  

Consumers are seeking increased connectivity with others, a social aspect to shopping, and more physical touchpoints.

Shopping has evolved from a purely perfunctory activity to an extension of social preferences and shopping centres are becoming a location in their own right, complete with cinemas, 10-pin bowling, escape rooms, mini golf and other leisure activities.

Service based retailing and self-improvement are another key component in the broad arsenal of any smart retailer. This approach to humanising  retail experience delivers to customers, not only a service or experience, but  usually an offering that is unlikely to be bought online.

Think medispas, nail salons, hairdressers and barbers, beauticians and now male specific beauty and health spas. These not only instil a sense of community, but also create meaningful experiences, helping encourage repeat visits and extended dwell time.

In addition to experiential retail, consumers are seeking customised and personal items, further seeking a connection with their retail experience. Bespoke products, once the domain of the rich and famous, are now  accessible to the masses and retailers are adapting their offerings accordingly.

Magnum ice-cream and Allen’s lollies enjoyed enormous success with their pop up stores offering customised products. KITKAT’s first permanent store, the KITKAT Chocolatory at Melbourne Central, offers visitors a concept store where chocolate lovers and foodies create their own KITKAT and buy limited edition flavours, only available in store.  

Predominantly online retailer, The Daily Edited, offer customers a line of customisable lifestyle accessories (think monogrammed leather bags, phone cases, wallets and business accessories) steadily gaining loyal followers and market share since  2011. The recent sale of a 30 per cent share to Oroton Group for $4.5 million  indicates that product personalisation is a lucrative trend.

Of course the irony is that data technology is what facilitates the rehumanising of retail and helps deliver personalised experiences. Retailers are able to access a wealth of customer data previously unimaginable and the ability to utilise consumer spending insights, predict trends and identify opportunity is crucial.

The interpretation and application of these insights, alongside electronic marketing and social media, creates not only a collaborative community environment with meaningful interaction, but the communication of relevant and timely information to consumers, further increasing brand equity and customer loyalty.  

In light of the above, should retailers shift their focus away from convenience and transaction speed? Are consumers choosing to forgo the ease of online shopping for a meaningful interaction? Essentially they want both. 

Consumers seek a human element and connection, alongside ease of purchase and convenience. Retailers must use technology and data in increasingly savvy ways to help customers feel unique and connected while still delivering increasingly personalised experiences.

Developers continue to seek the elusive holy grail of tenants; including traditional offerings, experiential and service based retail, sensational food and beverage offerings in the never ending quest to satisfy shoppers.

Matt Hudson is the national director and head of retail leasing at Cushman & Wakefield.

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