Guest Blog: Helping customers enjoy the human experience this Christmas

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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!