Jul 19, 2023Ed. Note: This article was previously posted at Retail TouchPoints.
By Bryan Wassel
As the pandemic fades and the thermometer climbs, more and more people want to get out and find an escape from the pressures of inflation—and outdoor spaces are positioned to provide great, flexible experiences that can fill the bill. "Suburban, open-air retail is being transformed as the way we work has been reshaped," said Ward Kampf, president of Northwood Retail in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. "People are seeking unique experiences and convenience. There has been a shift to spending on services—hair, nails, health and beauty.
Medtail is also a big draw for open-air, [including] dentists, orthodontics and skin services. Ease of access and surface-level parking are essential for service uses. Beyond that, great food and grocery stores are big differentiators, too." Beyond these offerings, shopping center operators and their retail partners also need a deep understanding of who their audience is and what they are seeking from the kind of shopping trip that can occupy a beautiful summer night. Some of the elements of a great strategy include:
Putting technology front and center: Outdoor shopping spaces take advantage of gardens and sunlight, but that doesn't make technology any less important to the overall experience, from wayfinding to BOPIS.
Keeping the community in mind: Open-air shopping centers are for gathering as much as shopping, and they should make themselves a pleasant, comfortable place to be in order to encourage browsing and repeat visits.
Standout experiences that set outdoor centers apart: Shopping centers need to be experiential destinations at all times, not just during activations or events, and they can achieve this with enticing layouts and smart use of technology.
Operators and retailers working together: Shopping center operators have an in-depth understanding of their grounds and capabilities, while retailers know their customers on a personal level—together, they can drive greater traffic.
Technology Can Make Good Experiences Great
As it is in many areas of retail, technology is playing a greater role in the overall experience offered by open-air centers. Tanger in particular has made investments in its digital platform and added digital assets to all of its centers, including digital directories and QR technology that directs customers to tanger.com, according to Andrew Wingrove, EVP and Chief Commercial Officer at Tanger. There, they can access both everyday and limited-time promotions from retailers, as well as earn personalized retailer-funded incentives.
"Additionally, our mobile app provides personalized recommendations that enrich the shopping experience," said Wingrove in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. "The app can identify a customer's location within the center and provide directions to particular stores. Through our app, shoppers can also track their TangerClub rewards and redeem them directly from their phone, streamlining the shopping experience."
Smart shopping centers also are thinking of ways to integrate their offerings with popular services such as BOPIS and in-store returns. This offers an opportunity to drive sales by giving shoppers the option to make a quick trip or stay for a longer period, and it's made possible by the power of convenience. "Your phone is the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing you see at night," said Kampf. "Technology and retail are intertwined—it's important for centers to embrace and enhance tenant offerings, from apps to wayfinding to hours of operation to reservation-making for a Pilates class or dinner."
Shopping Centers Are Community Spaces, Too
While retail shops are arguably the defining aspect of a shopping center, experiences are essential to making these centers destinations in their own right. And a well-run shopping center is a place where people feel like they can dwell for hours, inspiring browsing and helping retailers build relationships with their customers.
"As we continue to evolve, we know our guests are looking to us for experiences beyond retail offerings," said Tanger's Wingrove. "Modern, open-air shopping centers not only offer a place to interact directly with products before a purchase, but also to relax outdoors, gather with family and friends for a meal, or engage further by joining us in the fight against breast cancer through Tanger Pink, or supporting educators through TangerKids. Unlike indoor shopping malls, open-air centers intersect with the environments around them, whether in suburban markets or in key tourist destinations, creating a bustling community hub where guests can gather to shop and dine."
"Community" is a key word when it comes to creating a standout shopping center that serves as a destination in its own right, and open-air shopping centers offer natural gathering places. "As we continue to implement new strategies and elevate experiences for customers post-pandemic, it's clear that shoppers want to feel connected to their communities," said Debby LaMotte, general property manager at The Promenade Shops at Briargate in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.
"As we celebrate our 20th anniversary this year," LaMotte added, "we're focused on highlighting on-site events and shopper engagement across all platforms including social media, online deals and on-site activations." The Briargate's plans include smaller-format events, such as free concert and movie series to Paris Market Vintage's outdoor French Brocante Market. The space also is working with its retail partners to enable sidewalk sales during holiday and event operations.
Great Experiences Happen Every Day
Outdoor spaces are natural homes for events, but they also need to strive to provide memorable experiences outside of concerts and other gatherings. Shopping centers must have their fingers on the pulse of what shoppers want to truly tap into all the available opportunities—and getting this right is imperative for taking full advantage of the surge in activity expected during the warm summer months.
"Our center is ever-evolving to introduce new experiences and events, alongside unparalleled shared common spaces," said Serge Khalimsky, Senior General Manager at Westfield Old Orchard in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. "Shopping centers should offer a number of different attractions to enhance the shopper experience. Our center features a koi pond, lush gardens, water fountains, landscaped walkways, two play areas for children, trackless train, lawn games and more."
These year-round spaces also can enhance one-off experiences. Westfield Old Orchard features "The Cube," a freestanding 1,300-square-foot glass structure at the intersection of three main promenades. The space works as "a multipurpose space for retail pop-ups, events and activations," including the It's Oksana pop-up last year. The concept was launched by Ukrainian native and Chicago resident Oksana Ambroz-Trychta, which tied it into the local community Handcrafted linen and hemp household products, clothing and accessories created by Ukrainian women artisans were featured, and a portion of sales went to Ukrainian citizens and the Ukrainian military.
"Seeing this pop-up come together was a highlight for us, not only because we were able to uplift a Chicago-based entrepreneur, but because we saw an outpouring of support from our shoppers and visitors, who were seeking ways to engage with members of the Ukrainian community," said Westfield Old Orchard's Khalimsky.
Retailers and Operators: Better Together
An open-air shopping center's primary audience is naturally going to be those who like the shops and restaurants inside, and so it makes sense to host events with an eye toward experiences that tie in naturally with what's already on offer. "It's all about content and context, and demographics, and you have to be thoughtful," said Northwood's Kampf. "If you have a running store, hosting a running club, or [if you have] a great coffee shop, offering book club meetups or kids' study groups can be successful." Because retailers understand their customers on a granular level, they are excellent sources of inspiration.
"Creating synergy between shopping centers and retailers fosters an elevated shopping experience for guests," said Wingrove. "At Tanger, our retail partners regularly leverage our platform to offer a range of unique experiences, including festivals, fan experiences, scavenger hunts, meet-and-greets, workshops and many other activities. Retailers also often participate in Tanger's center-wide events, enhancing these activations while promoting their brand outside of their leased spaces. Through these collaborations, our retail partners attract new guests and further embed themselves in our communities, while also helping to promote Tanger centers as destinations for unique and exciting activities."