The future of retail: If bricks is to compete with clicks, we need to offer more than just shopping
The media regularly like to declare that the British high street is dead, but – despite popular opinion – we’re still doing more of our shopping in person than online.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), online sales accounted for 17% of total retail sales in the UK during 2017.
However, as the numerous big retail names that we’ve said goodbye to in 2018 testify – attracting these customers and winning over market share isn’t easy.
There are many different strategies retailers need to employ to attract customers, and basics such as the right products and the correct pricing will never go away. Increasingly, retail businesses realise that if they are to stand a chance of competing against the ease of online shopping, then they need to offer something a little different. They need to provide an experience.
Indeed, this is perhaps one of the critical areas in which bricks and mortar shops genuinely have the edge, and many major retailers are already capitalising on it. The skateboarding footwear and clothing company Vans, for example, has created the ‘House of Vans’ in its store near Waterloo station in London. There, skateboarding enthusiasts can put their skills to the test on a concrete ramp, mini ramp and street course. Similarly, in Manchester, Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports has an indoor ice climbing wall drawing a steady stream of customers through its doors. Even great British institution John Lewis is getting in on the act, with its Westfield store now offering shoppers the chance to access personal stylists trained by a former fashion director at Vogue, and attend daily talks on a range of subjects relating to fashion.
All these retailers – and many of their peers – realise that offering an ‘experience’ and positioning themselves as not just a shop, but a leisure destination in their own right helps differentiate them from the competition and increase footfall and sales.
This is just what we do at The Valley. Set on the banks of the River Avon, in 125 acres of rolling countryside, it’s the perfect place for a country walk before or after shopping. For families, there’s the Castle Adventure Playground and the Evesham Vale Light Railway to enjoy and more recently, we’ve launched the jewel in our crown – The Boardman Bikes Performance Centre.
The brainchild of none other than Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman MBE, the centre – the first of its kind in the UK – is targeted at everyone from the weekend hobby cyclist to elite cyclists hoping to represent their country. In addition to its centrepiece, a “mind-blowing” wind tunnel, where cycling enthusiasts can put their skills to the test, the 18,000 sq ft centre is run by a number of cycling specialists who can offer a range of services such as physiological fitness, function and health tests, bike-fitting, positional biomechanics and aerodynamic assessment.
Last weekend, along with fellow Eagle One team member Darren Goodman and Geraint Jones of Savills, we experienced ‘Rider MOT’ at the Performance Centre and – a 1.5-hour screening covering everything from respiratory function to body composition, bike sizing to performance insight. As a group of keen amateurs, we were astounded by just how much we found out about our bodies and how they could affect our cycling experiences.
With this new addition to the site driving footfall week-on-week, we’ve added new retail units adjacent to the centre, which are already receiving considerable interest.
This isn’t just due to the Boardman Performance Centre, but also because out-of-town retail schemes such as ours – with free parking, family attractions and a number of eateries – offer a more comprehensive package to shoppers that help give us the edge over our competitors.
We work hard to ensure The Valley is a well-loved part of the local community, and host regular events appealing to a wide range of shopper profiles to ensure we have a steady stream of new and return visitors. In the last few months alone, we’ve welcomed the BBC’s Cbeebies stars to The Valley to launch our very own beach for the summer, hosted our biggest ‘Asparagus Colour Run’ yet and enjoyed our royal wedding celebrations.
We do all this and launch new initiatives such as The Boardman Performance Centre, because we know that our responsibilities to our retailers go far beyond just providing them with a unit to trade. We want to be part of their success story by ensuring we’re doing all we can to provide customers with incentives to visit us and to keep on coming back.
The old “If you build it, they will come” attitude to attracting customers to shopping schemes like ours no longer works. Retail is changing, and we are changing with it. Customers want an experience – a chance to enjoy something a bit different while they shop and that’s precisely what we’re offering. The Boardman Bikes Performance Centre is just the latest chapter.
Phil Maclean, Senior Marketing Manager
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