Re-inventing shopping

Shopping-Centre-modern-PolandWhen people talk about customer experience in retail, they are usually talking about how they are going to fit some kind of experiential envelope around the collection of merchandise they’ve bought – and will hopefully resell to customers.

But pretty soon it’s going to be the other way round. We’re going to be creating experiences, and then wondering what kinds of goods and services would be good to sell around those experiences. Or even what types of goods and services our customers will purchase through other channels before, during or after taking part in the experience.

Sussan Group CEO, Naomi Milgrom, said in May that, “Australian retail needs to reinvent the shopping centre”. Ghost malls are already a creepy phenomenon in the US. Is the shopping centre already dead? Is shopping itself dead?

The truth is that people aren’t bored with shopping, they’re bored with shops. A report by UK consulting company, Start, draws the distinction between the chore of “doing shopping” and the joy of “going shopping”. We need to make “doing shopping” quicker and more convenient, and “going shopping” more entertaining and engaging.

Replenishment and top-up shopping can easily be accomplished online, supported by conveniently positioned pick up and fulfillment stations. Customers can purchase from anywhere at any time and have the goods delivered to any place at any time. This frees the retailer up to provide the customer with some real fun when they choose to “go shopping”.

Going shopping will be as much fun as going out. Customers will seek out experiences. They may not buy anything. There may not even be anything for sale. You can see online and physical retail as converging. But you can also see them as diverging.

Inspiration, purchase and fulfillment don’t need to happen in the same place. Your customer might be inspired during a visit to your retail space, but purchase from you two days later from the train on the way to work. The goods may turn up at their home or wherever they ask them to turn up. Or they might not purchase anything at all – but pay for the experience. Or just to be a member of your club.

Should we be corralling retail experiences together in shopping centres? Or should they exist independently along traffic routes where people go about their daily lives?

Logically speaking, the convenience-based offers need to be placed on travel arteries. But for the leisure-based shoppers, it makes sense to create a destination, just like a theatre district in a city.

The best shopping centres already fulfill this function, and the newer ones are becoming increasingly iconic pieces of architecture, contributing positively to neighbourhoods and cities.

Experiential businesses, like cinemas and restaurants, are already popular. The centres provide the infrastructure, the framework and the logistics that hold everything together. But at the end of the day, they make their money from renting space. The retail experience is up to the retailers.

So maybe it’s not shopping centres, but shopping itself, that we need to re-invent.

Gary McCartney is owner of McCartney Design and can be reached at


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