Shopping centers in a « phygital » age

Shopping has become well and truly omnichannel. But what does this mean for physical shopping centres and how is the industry reacting to the new paradigm ?


First of all, let’s not forget that the most dynamic segment of e-commerce is the « click-and-collect » one. It makes life easier for e-merchants, avoiding the economic and environmental costs of the last kilometre, for the customers who no longer have to wait at home for an unreliable delivery, and finally the retailers who can trigger additional sales when the customer comes into their stores. The newly-opened ZARA flagship store at Westfield London is a good example of a sales-point perfectly adapted to such an omnichannel experience. We have calculated that in the major European countries, 80% of the population has a shopping centre less than 30 minutes from their homes. Which means that clearly shopping centres constitute by far the primary retail logistic network in Europe !..


Moreover, major European landlords (URW, Klépierre, Hammerson, Sonae-Sierra, …) have already developed apps to accompany their shopping centres’ websites, or beacon devices to help their customers in their shopping experience, offering assistance to park, find a store or a specific product, and get discounted prices through different incentives or loyalty programs.… But the ultimate step – having access in real time on a shopping centre’s website to the physical stock of products available in the stores – is no longer a dream. Hence, ECE in one of its German malls has already developed such a website: a perfect digital avatar of their Alstertal physical center in Hamburg.

Another trend we have observed is the fact that more and more, pure-play etailers are becoming physical. Whether it is Amazon or Zalando, they need to interact with their customers physically to reassure them and get their feedback, face to face. It is indeed a new breed of tenants for shopping centre owners and developers. To quote a French philosopher Raphaël Einthoven, a « click will never replace a hand shake! ”.

Shopping centre owners will increasingly need to offer a ‘real’ experience by developing their F&B and leisure offers, not to mention the need to have temporary and constantly renewing selling  and entertaining propositions, with pop-up stores or events’ programs, so that something new and exciting is always happening. The idea is to offer something that a customer will never be able to experience on his tablet or smartphone. Since man appeared on earth, his main goal in life has always been to save the species. Despite the inexorable progress of virtual reality, the only way to do it is to meet physically !…

In a word, the « phygital » age we are moving into is more an opportunity than a threat for our industry.But we must be able to adapt our offer to the demands of a new customer who now wants to be free to do everything : search, order, pay, collect,whenever and wherever, on or off-line !

About Author


Chief Executive, French Council of Shopping Centers

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