Urban densification, an oversupply of malls and the robust growth of the online shopping sector are just some of the factors forcing shopping centres to become something more than just a place to shop.

In 2015, shopping centres are required to be viewed as ‘destinations.’ The rise of the ‘lifestyle centre’ in which urban character, a diversity of uses and boutique retail offerings are de rigueur, is evidence of this movement.

With experience on over 100 shopping centre and town centre development projects across Australia, ClarkeHopkinsClarke Partner Dean Landy shares his top seven tips for creating successful, suburban retail destinations:

1. Context Is Everything

Understanding the competitive environment and the local demographics of your catchment is vital. What other retail centres exist within five to 10 minutes walk or drive from your site and how are they performing? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can your project be differentiated?

Knowing who you are catering for enables your centre to specifically target the needs of the community. Pay attention not just to youth, young professionals and families. Pre-boomers (68 years+) and baby boomers (49-67 years of age) are the fastest growing sector of the population and also the wealthiest. Consider what these population cohorts need and desire, and consider how the tenancy mix, activities on offer and even the opening hours can respond.

2. Encourage Social Interaction

Considering opportunities for social interaction, community functions and activities is a great way to attract customers to your shopping centre. Creating a pleasing environment that people want to come to for leisure, entertainment and to meet with friends turns the shopping centre from a commodity to a destination. Designing public spaces within retail precincts and carefully considering the placement of cafes and restaurants is key.

3. Tap Into The Food Revolution

The increase of suburban specialty fresh food stores and fine dining establishments is linked to the growing consumer interest in where food is sourced from and how it is grown/reared. This can also be attributed to the media saturation of cooking, health and wellbeing programs and personalities.

The diversity and presentation of grocery items can attract customers, as can quality fast food, cafes and restaurants. Food can also play a theatrical role in events and demonstrations.

The traditional, centralised suburban food court is making way for greater integration between food and retail offerings with cafes and restaurants being placed on the outer edges of malls where the natural light is better or, where possible, higher up where there may be views.

4. Consider A Mix Of Uses

Integrating or simply co-locating shopping centres with other community facilities is another great way to make a shopping centre a destination. Incorporating concerts, art centres, fitness clubs, medical centres, farmers markets and even education facilities immediately increases flow through and heightens convenience for patrons who are able to undertake a range of activities in the one place.

5. Encourage Pedestrian Traffic

Creating shopping centre facilities with legible layouts, good external sightlines and connectivity to other town centre elements increases pedestrian traffic. A discussion paper by the Heart Foundation titled Good for Business outlines that such walkability contributes to increased retail revenues.

6. Create A Distinct And Authentic Environment

The bright, white walled and tiled shopping centre interiors of years past are making way for a more textural and urbanised environment. The former is associated with highly corporatised urban environments, but retail consumers seek places and spaces that reflect a local flavour and develop and evolve over time.

Distinctiveness and authenticity are further enhanced through careful consideration of the tenant mix. Installing entirely corporate-backed high street chain stores and franchise food retailers can remove any sense of connection to the local area. Introducing some locally run businesses into the specialty retail and food and beverage component, where customers can speak directly with the business owners and find locally sourced goods, increases the sense of personal connection and loyalty.

7. Leverage Technology

A simple way of utilising technology to make a shopping centre a destination is to provide free Wi-Fi. This further enlivens cafe and restaurant spaces to become suitable places for meetings or to get some work done.

The creation of a centre smartphone app also allows retailers to constantly update shoppers on the latest offers and gives shopping centre management a convenient tool to promote events on.

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