Why do we need to embrace experiential retail?

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The core concept of co-working has its parallels with today’s retail industry — the shift towards innovative experiences as a service. It is no secret that traditional plug and play mall concepts no longer command their lofty status in the shopping ecosystem.

The demand from shoppers for an enhanced retail experience has driven brands to reinvent their in-store models and this evolution has now entered the DNA of the shopping mall developer and operator.

by Andrew Barnardiston, Director of Point Consulting. Barnardiston has over a decade of experiences as both an operator and service provider in the retail industry (Article first published on Retail in Asia)

theDesk Leighton Centre Causeway Bay
Ranked the second-most expensive retail district in the world, Causeway Bay has undergone several phases to keep up with evolving demands of the retail industry.

Where did “experiential retail” come from?

Whether it was Walt Disney or Gordon Selfridge with his ‘retail theatre’ concept, which put customer experience at the forefront within retail, it is clear that shoppers are now expecting a multi-faceted journey when they head to the shopping mall.

Aspirational brands such as Apple and Nike have long embraced this form of retail theatre and are constantly looking at ways of engaging with their loyal fans.

Apple has an educational theme running through their stores, with shoppers able to experience the products under Apple ‘educators’ while Nike has bridged the digital and storefront divide by plugging into the existing store’s ERP catalogue and e-commerce shop to inform real-time product availability.

If the shopping mall is to remain relevant and engaging, it needs to learn from these types of brands offerings and evolve its own personality within the retail landscape.

The increasing rise of online shopping and e-commerce means that malls need to adapt their strategies; those that have already have will reap the benefits of an improved connection with a more sophisticated shopper.

There is no one size fits all but the following are some points to think about in the journey to offer a more experiential retail offering.

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Hysan Properties’ Lee Gardens retail experience at Causeway Bay. (Source: Hysan Properties)

How do malls embrace this new experience?

Malls need to recognize that offering an enlightened retail experience, means exactly that and operators and developers who are able to bring that flavour of entertainment and variety into their locations will reap the most benefit.

Take a look at your tenant mix

The general rule of allocating 80% of your mall to retail needs to be revisited, with entertainment and food options to hold a greater share of that space.

Allan Zeman, Lan Kwai Fong Group’s chairman, suggests that actually 35% to 40% of mall tenants should be retail, while up to 65% should be dedicated to entertainment and food and beverage spaces.

This is fair, for if we acknowledge the growth of online shopping as well as the fact that malls are, in many cases, a strong part of the community that is in, entertainment and food are ever more critical and ultimately synonymous with retaining that family-centric attraction.

Be more than a mall

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The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. (Source: Marina Bay Sands)

There isn’t a magic bullet for delivery, but the need to embrace new concepts will help differentiation. Whether we like it or not, we live in a knowledge-hungry environment and our thirst for new experiences means that malls need to constantly offer new interest points.

Read more: Retelling retail: Every customer is a digital customer

At the end of last year, December 2017, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (“MBS”), Singapore launched a new multi-sensory digital art exhibit which allows visitors to personalise messages and interact with the installation as a replacement to the ice-skating rink.

MBS Vice President of Retail John Postle, when interviewed by CNA said the company wanted to create “an experience that keeps on evolving – one that not only aspires to evoke people’s imagination but also to draw them to visit again and again”.

This is a ticketed attraction and so offers an additional revenue channel.

Also in Singapore, the OUE Downtown Gallery is now offering innovative lifestyle and retail concepts such as the OUE Social Kitchen – a communal kitchen, self-service beauty kiosks and an automated deli service as well as indie fashion brands.

South Korea which houses one of Asia’s largest underground shopping complexes, in the Coex Mall in South Korea has embraced the integrated offering by providing an aquarium, library, an events plaza and a museum.

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Starfield Library in Asia’s largest underground shopping centre, COEX Mall, in South Korea.  (Source: Josip Ivankovic)

In Johor Bahru, Malaysia, the Capital 21 Mall, opening later this year, is looking to embrace the modern shopper by offering the so-called largest indoor theme park in Southeast Asia. There will be an indoor circus among other entertainment options.

When you investigate some of the innovative concepts being launched, you do wonder whether the term “shopping mall” will even be appropriate soon.


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Innovate don’t stagnate

Take a look around you and you would be hard-pressed to find a single person who doesn’t have their heads buried in their mobile device. This remains the case, even walking around the malls and we are all guilty of this.

Instead of denying the fact, find new ways to interact with your digital hungry shopper. There are a lot of innovative ways to enhance your shopper’s experience that sit outside the traditional loyalty points.

Everything from indoor positioning, wayfinding to remembering where you parked your car, malls now have the capability to personalize the experience of their shoppers and digital transform their experiences.

Where to go from here?

theDesk Leighton Centre Causeway Bay
K11 Hong Kong dedicated a section of their art and design-themed mall (8,999 sq.ft.) for natural and eco-friendly shops. (Source: K11)

This is not a call to start again and rethink your whole strategy; it is more about making sure there is room to be unique as you strive for successful strategies in a challenging environment.

Embracing experiential retail needs to trump legacy decision-making. I am not saying hindsight cannot help to drive insight, but rather there needs to be a clear strategy with the shopper experience at the core of decision-making.

Boldness and creative strategies are essential in appealing to the modern shopper and the quality of this experience underpins those malls that will win out.


Are you working in or around the retail industry?

If your answer is ‘yes’, join us at Retail Mixer on Thursday 26th April with other like-minded retail players.

theDesk Retail Mixer

Date: Thursday 26th April 2018

Venue: Premier Cru, 15 High Street, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong

Transport: MTR Sai Ying Pun Station, Exit C

Cost: HK$150 per entry — entitles each pax to 2 glasses of wine and canapes

Time: 6 pm – 9 pm

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