By David Fuller-Watts
Europe’s luxury outlet centers, including Bicester Village, will be among the biggest beneficiaries. Before the pandemic, the UK’s Bicester Village, located near Oxford, received around 7 million visitors a year–a third of whom were from overseas. Incredibly, in 2015 80% of Chinese visitors to London also made the journey to Bicester Village, underlining the allure of luxury designer brands at discounted prices. But simply offering luxury brands at discounted prices is not enough to attract visitors from all over the world. Destinations must also create a world-class shopping experience which blends the physical and the digital.
When we launched Mallcomm in 2014 it was primarily used to connect landlords and tenants and enable them to collaborate in real-time to drive operational efficiencies. Today, there is much more emphasis on how digital tools can enhance the visitor experience and create places that blur the line between online and physical retail.
First and foremost, a visitor’s experience must be as frictionless as possible. Retail places must be easy to access, queues and congestion must be managed, and basic amenities must be readily available. One benefit of having an app or online platform for visitors is that they can be informed in real-time of any queues or congestion, so they can plan their day accordingly. Post-pandemic this type of instant communication is even more important in ensuring visitors understand any social distancing guidelines or other precautions that may be in place, so they can be prepared.
At leading retail destinations there is also a move towards a digital concierge offer–allowing visitors to access luxury services such as valet parking, order food and beverages, access special offers and purchase bus and rail tickets. This level of service, akin to a five-star hotel, means shoppers can access all the information and services they need via an app–and crucially, can use it to plan their next visit. Digitizing the concierge service also reduces the need for help desks in centers, creating space that can be commercialized by retailers or other partners or utilized as public seating or meeting space.
The return of tourists will be a huge boost for the leading outlet centers, and it will be vital that centers deliver a best-in-class experience that keeps them coming back.