Carlos González, Managing Director NEINVER. Credit: NEINVER
Feature | Opinion

Accelerating the outlet centres playbook

The pandemic has turned the world’s economy and the retail landscape on its head. For the retail sector it has been a year like no other, but it is becoming clear that the health crisis has impacted the industry at different degrees. Although outlet centres are not immune to the pandemic’s toll, they have recovered at a much faster pace than other retail formats when restrictions were eased or lifted.

By Carlos González, Managing Director NEINVER

Their popularity among consumers is mainly driven by two things. First, their good value orientation, offering top brand names at affordable prices. This becomes an increasing advantage in an adverse macroeconomic environment in which consumers cut their spending on discretionary goods. And second, outlets have a strong customer orientation, evolving over the years to better suit their needs.

The pandemic has proven again how resilient the niche outlet industry is, but the sector needs to continue to adapt to the new landscape to secure the competitive advantage it has earned so far. 
Customer experience and value for money, key drivers in the retail game board, have been totally disrupted and are evolving with the current situation. 

Our playbook has shifted from increasing strong leisure and food and beverage options towards prioritising a safe environment for customers. In 2020, NEINVER launched the “Shop safe, stay safe” blueprint, securing a safe shopping environment for our visitors. We reworked our operational and marketing strategies to align with changing consumer shopping habits and lifestyles and invested in our digital acceleration plan to effectively connect with and engage consumers through the entire customer journey. Services such as virtual shopping, click-and-collect, and shopping by appointment were introduced to increase convenience and flexibility, in line with the mission-driven and omnichannel shopping patterns brought forward by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been investing in our customer knowledge tools to gain truly relevant customer insights to keep pace with their expectations.

To maintain high occupancy rates, the pandemic has required lease negotiations and adjustments with almost every tenant to ensure business continuity for both parties. Building on our partnership with tenants through a long-term approach and intensive daily support will continue to be a key driver of outlets’ success. 

On the demand side, we have seen a change in what people are buying. Retail segments such as activewear and leisurewear, childrenswear, health and beauty, and home products have experienced a big rise and food and beverage is re-emerging as the situation improves.

Keeping pace with consumers in their search for great experiences and value for money, especially until the pandemic is over, will require a large dose of flexibility, creativity and the ability to listen to their needs. For instance, consumers will be looking for spaces to connect with friends and family and they will give priority to outdoor options; price will not be the only driver of spending but sustainability or connecting with brands’ values will also play a role. The pandemic has increased consumers’ focus on brands that are on their side in big societal challenges. As an example, NEINVER launched a Europe-wide initiative to promote art through local talent, a way to continue taking an active role in local communities while providing uplifting activities for our public. In this revolutionised retail landscape, connecting not only with the “minds” but also with the “hearts” of our customers has never been so important. 

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