Guest blog

A brave new retail world?

As the retail property sector starts to reengage following lockdown, digitalisation and decarbonisation are undoubtedly two main priorities.

In his latest column for ACROSS Magazine, ECSP’s secretary general Joost Koomen looks at what challenges must be addressed to ensure a smooth digital and green transition. Access the full article here.

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ECSP guest blog: A shopping experience is an inclusive experience

As part of ECSP’s ‘Shopping Values’ campaign running this month, Christoph Andexlinger, Chief Operations Officer at SES Spar European Shopping Centers, explains why diversity matters, and his company’s commitment to it.

It should be a given that all people are treated equally, regardless of their gender, their culture, their age, their place in society, their religion, their origin, or their station in life.

What makes us special as a species and gives us the best opportunities for further development is the uniqueness of each and every one of us and the stunning variety of different individuals it creates. Not only does it make our lives colorful, varied, and individual, it also delivers enormous potential for all of us. As special and promising as this variety is, the limitless opportunities it creates can only happen if we all equally recognize its potential.

How is the retail real estate industry positioning itself when it comes to diversity? It’s a big subject that would be difficult to cover in one blog post – its a multi-faceted issue with many different aspects. However, shopping is an intrinsic part of every aspect of our lives. Shopping is more than buying the essentials. Shopping places have become urban spaces where people meet and socialize, inform themselves, seek inspiration and ultimately enjoy themselves. Shopping is an inclusive experience, so retailers and operators should always be aware of how the opportunities they are offering are given to everyone equally. But this inclusive approach is not just for our customers but for our workforce too.  For example, are round-the-clock corporate childcare facilities available to make sure that retail employees can manage the balancing act between their work and family lives?

Our company has adopted a clear stance: All people are equal, and all people have the same fundamental rights. Live is colorful, not monochrome. Our centers do not make a distinction between individuals. We never exclude particular groups or parts of society when positioning our centers. Quite the contrary: We try to provide the most comprehensive offer, the most beautiful shopping experience, and the best quality of stay for as many people as possible and, as a matter of course, to show them our unreserved appreciation.

Ultimately, shopping destinations reflect progress in our society as well. Our daily goal must therefore be: equal opportunities for everyone, and being open to everyone.

SES Spar European Shopping Centers is a developer, builder, and operator of large-scale, mixed-use properties, with an emphasis on retail and services. SES currently manages 30 shopping locations in six Central and Southern European countries. In Austria and Slovenia, SES is the market leader in large-scale shopping centers.

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Guest blog: What makes a vibrant centre attractive?

As part of our ‘Vibrant Cities: Shopping Places Matter’ campaign, we spoke to Roberto Limetti, member of the ECSP Executive Board on behalf of founding member CNCC Italy, the Italian Council of Shopping Places to tell us what he thinks makes a vibrant centre attractive.

Shopping places are an essential part of every community. Success can often depend on a variety of different values and elements. Roberto gives his views below.

What does a shopping place look like?

A shopping place to me looks like…life. Shopping places will always be the heart of our local communities. If I were to use an image, I would say that a shopping place is a ‘covered piazza’, where the community can buy the things they need and want, but also come together to enjoy social events, concerts and sports. It is also a place that public authorities can use as a hub and a point of reference for important community services. The best example at the moment is how many shopping places are being used as Covid-19 testing and vaccination points.

What are the key drivers to success?

Success is dependent on serving the everyday needs of the individual customer as well as the broader community in which it operates. However, loyalty is often anchored off the shopping experience where customers keep going back because they enjoy spending time there. As such, a modern shopping place is often an eclectic mix of retail but also leisure (cinema, playgrounds, family entertainment centres), sports (gyms, sport facilities), culture (museums, exhibitions), services (post offices, public administration offices, co working spaces), health care (clinics, dental care, medical hubs).

How do shopping places add to the vibrancy of urban centres?

A vibrant shopping place goes beyond simply fulfilling the needs of the community it serves. It is an extension of the urban centre itself, woven into the fabric of the local environment, becoming a desired destination where people want to go and where the community can come together safely to enjoy their free time. It can also be a focus for private and public initiatives, innovation and investment.

What’s next, what are shopping places prioritising at the moment?

Shopping centres will have a fundamental role in getting back to “normality” as quickly as possible, when the time is right. Until then, the most important thing is to rebuild customer confidence following extended lockdowns and closures due to the Covid-19 crisis. Shopping places have always offered a safer experience and Covid-19 has not changed this. Since the beginning of the pandemic, shopping places have adhered to the highest hygiene and safety standards recommended by authorities to prevent any outbreaks. In addition, a single shopping place with one management team is far more able to coordinate and deliver all of the health requirements to ensure a protected environment.

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Guest Blog: A safer and better Christmas for all

Ana Moita, Head of Marketing Europe and New Markets at Sonae Sierra, a member of ECSP, explains how shopping places have adapted to the health and safety challenge this Christmas.

More than ever this year, safe retail spaces are essential in our towns and cities to offer a moment of Christmas escape. At Sonae Sierra, we put the wellbeing of visitors first to ensure that visiting our shopping centres is carefree, fruitful and fun. This year, that means adding in safety measures that support in-person shopping in a responsible way, while continuing to help our tenants in every way we can in all the shopping centres we manage across Europe.

Managing visitor flows to our shopping centres is more significant than ever at this time. As well as creating communication campaigns encouraging shoppers to buy their Christmas gifts early, we have also piloted queue management systems, plus online booking platforms for visiting specific stores safely and comfortably. This also helps our tenants dedicate time to shoppers’ needs.

For centre visitors that arrive by car, we have rolled out traffic control systems to give our clients access to real time information about vehicle flows and parking in our shopping centres. This is available on the shopping centre website, its mobile app and through Chatbots. The information is conveyed with a traffic light system: green means ‘waiting for you’; amber means ‘approaching limit capacity’; while red means ‘please visit us later’. We are also piloting a mobile tool called “your car is here”, to help customers quickly and directly return to their vehicles.

Some other innovative services were implemented to offer more comfort to clients; the drive-in service at car park for clients to collect the purchases done online or by phone. The concierge service whereby customers request on the website of the shopping centre the products they have selected and the concierge team buy and collect those products, being delivered in the drive-in area at car park or at home, on the scheduled day and time slot.

Information can also be fun, as demonstrated by the success of a Pepper robot, a friendly and helpful humanoid, launched as a pilot in Colombo for the Christmas period with more than 100,000 interactions since September. We have now a new one in Norte Shopping, that has registered 2,735 total interactions after just six days.

Meanwhile, we have been helping children’s dreams come true by offering a Christmas video call with Santa Claus in almost all shopping centres managed by Sonae Sierra in different countries. The initiative has been so popular that it is fully booked until Christmas Eve nearly everywhere.

It wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t think about the most vulnerable and needy members of our communities.  Some shopping centres have also selected a local charity to support via a special Christmas tree installation. The wishes of children are tagged on the tree; shoppers can buy the gifts mentioned and the centre delivers them to the institution.

Several centres are also taking extra special care of families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of Christmas food baskets, reflecting local traditions, have been packaged and delivered to those in the catchment area hit particularly hard by the health crisis.

More than ever, this Christmas we need to support each other!

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Guest Blog: Helping customers enjoy the human experience this Christmas

We asked Luc Plasman, General Manager of the Belgian and Luxembourg Council of Retail and Shopping Centers (BLSC), what the response has been to his members to the Covid challenge and what he believes will help the sector to succeed beyond the pandemic.

For most people, Christmas is the one time of the year when they have the chance to gather with family and friends, but this year will be very different. The same applies to our Christmas shopping habits. In Belgium and Luxembourg there are several restrictions in place: everyone must shop alone, there is limited capacity in shops and social distancing and masks are mandatory. In addition, restaurants and bars are closed. All this results in much less social contact, undermining the community spirit as well as a direct impact on the retail sectors in terms of sales and footfall.

As with many sectors, these are also particularly challenging times for retail property owners, whose centres are often the heart and soul of many towns and cities across Europe. This is one of the many reasons why our shopping centre managers and their marketing teams have been particularly innovative in creating initiatives that reassure consumers that their centres are safe places to visit, whilst also promoting the Christmas spirit and the feeling of community. That’s why we have still put all our Christmas decorations up.

In terms of the health and safety measures that have been put in place, consumers have also been asked to space out their visits to shopping centres as much as possible over opening hours. Where authorities have allowed, centres are also open on Sundays.

During the first week after reopening nonessential shops, consumers behaved in a responsible way and, in general, followed the rules that have been put in place to ensure their shopping experience is safe.  

In order to bring consumers back to our shopping places once the Covid-19 crisis is under control, retailers and landlords must work together to tackle their respective challenges following the pandemic. The only way traditional centres will be able to compete against ecommerce and online platforms is if we work better together. 

Nevertheless, we are confident that the combination of well-managed, diversified and safe shopping places that continue to innovate will remain attractive to many consumers around Europe. Offering a physical shopping experience, that combines food & beverage and leisure elements, is what people appreciate. As humans we like to touch and feel and to look and see the things we want to buy. It is the experience that is our strongest proposition.

As a sector we remain confident of a promising future for our vibrant shopping places. We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2021!