Destination shopping: why town planners need to think big 

March 28, 2019

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Martin Newman

By Martin Newman

The Consumer Champion

Shopping has come a long way from the age of schlepping to the local Co-op for the same food shop every week or struggling to find a new pair of shoes you like twice a year. Today’s shopping is a very different animal; a world of choice, and everything from clothes and shoes to white goods and homewares priced for every budget. But far from being boom time for everyone, we have to deal with this new multichannel world that we live in. Shopping in bricks and mortar stores has evolved past the pragmatic into the experiential – yet retailers are slow to catch on.

As a sector, instore retail cannot be simply functional any more. It has to be pleasurable. If you aren’t enjoying pretty much every second of arriving, wandering around, enjoying a coffee or choosing a new outfit, the chances are you’ll just buy from the comfort of your armchair. When you consider that millennials could easily have $1.4 trillion spending power by 2020, it’s probably not the best idea to overlook the one thing that e-commerce can’t offer: a day out.

Where is your car park? Is it accessible? Why are you allowing a coffee shop to set up next to five other coffee shops? Do consumers really plan on visiting Primark and Karen Millen one after the other? It’s essential to think about the space, layout and walked through grounds of the experience when working out what’s going wrong (or right) for customers. Do you even think about consumers as your customers? I hope you do. You need to know who your customer is, and what matters to them. Put that in the heart of what you do when it comes to planning your town centre and you can begin the evolution of the high street to the experience consumers are looking for.

Think about what happens after 5.30pm. Is there a cinema, or is it a mile out of town next to a darkened retail park? What about a theatre? Is it a magnet for stag and hen parties, making locals apprehensive about coming into the town centre for a romantic dinner?

Sometimes what is wrong is incredibly easy to fix: better air conditioning, for example, free WIFI or more places to sit. If it’s a larger issue – maybe you’re far too out of town to warrant an impulse buy – then you need to work on how you can make that issue work for you. Perhaps you need to rebrand as a peaceful retreat from the city centre, or at least offer much cheaper parking.

It’s not enough to shrug and point the finger at online platforms; in the same way they are constantly evolving to survive, our shopping districts must as well. There’s enough room in this industry for shopping to be a multichannel sector, but we must all keep on the front foot in developing the best possible experiences for our customers.

To err on the side of caution is to be human, to stand still in the internet age is an industrial disaster.

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