Last Thursday, our Associate Director, David Evans, attended the Property Council Retail Breakfast event “Dawn of the Super Neighbourhood Centre” and he now shares some insights here.

The Dawn of the Super Neighbourhood Centre

With a title like that, I couldn’t help having high expectations.

But if I’m honest, the event was a bit like the breakfast… I was left feeling, well, fine, but underwhelmed and unsatisfied.

Three presenters all offered their differing approaches; one advocated ‘placemaking’, another was concerned with how they listened to their customers and one was extremely pleased with their car parking.

I’m not critiquing that any of these are more or less important than another, but it just felt a bit… ho hum. And so I thought, ‘Why do we go to certain centres and not others? It’s got to be more than just great car parking.’

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…

I found a Forbes article identifying defining factors which made a great shopping experience.

  • Engagement: being polite, genuinely caring and interested in helping, acknowledging and listening.
  • Executional excellence: patiently explaining and advising, checking stock, helping to find products, having product knowledge and providing unexpected product quality.
  • Brand Experience: exciting store design and atmosphere, consistently great product quality, making customers feel they’re special and that they always get a deal.
  • Expediting: being sensitive to customers’ time on long check-out lines, being proactive in helping speed the shopping process.
  • Problem Recovery: helping resolve and compensate for problems, upgrading quality and ensuring complete satisfaction.

From this article, published in 2009, and from customers’ survey responses, four out of five key elements, relate to the actual personal experience gained whilst shopping. Even after 10 years of changing bricks-n-mortar retail and an evolution of online retail, what customers desire in a memorable retail experience has changed very little. Even 10 years later, we are still talking about the same thing: a focus on providing a great customer experience is what keeps them coming back.

Then as now…

It would indicate the components of a great retail centre, of whatever size, is more often than not determined by the quality of the human transaction, the sale, and personal interactions experienced during the shopping experience.

If we seem to have been saying the same things for over 10 years, so, have we found the key to an outstanding retail experience? And if we have, how can we better apply this idea to our built environment? Or have we missed the point about the essential part of shopping and why we visit certain centres and not others?

Perhaps, instead of leaping directly to espousing an engaging placemaking strategy or an exciting car park layout, we consider a simple analogy.

An App Analogy

Applications (apps) today connect nearly every function of a business, no matter if it’s a local cupcake store or a massive multi-national brand. Across the entire customer experience—from product search to shopping cart to order-tracking to customer support—the app now forms an intricate, well-integrated orchestration of digital journeys that leverage a wide range of technologies, including mainframes, multicloud, microservices, machine learning and interactive voice.

Each component in this journey must perform optimally to deliver a great experience. Slow servers, unresponsive sensors, and spotty connectivity can lead to user abandonment, and network outages can cost millions of dollars in a few seconds.

Sound familiar? I’ve tweaked the app content just for fun and applied this thought process to personal interactions that occur during shopping.

Slow service, unresponsive tellers, and spotty product knowledge can lead to user abandonment, and walking out can cost dollars in a few seconds.

Is this what makes or breaks a great retail experience? If we don’t get the personal interaction, we are always going to struggle to succeed to create ‘a place’, no matter how great we feel our built form is. Shopping used to be a happy, social event – and it can still be – but more often now it’s part of a larger trip, and you are trying to get a lot accomplished in a certain compressed timeframe.

What are we really looking for, in a retail experience? How can we make our built environment better facilitate an outstanding customer service experience?