The city centre, it seems, may be the clear winner when it comes to the challenge of delivering a world-class customer experience.

Re-imagining what it means to ‘shop’, and ensuring retail destinations are just that – places we are drawn to time and again.

Convenience may be a quick fix, but creating a compelling customer journey – and ensuring this evolves over time to meet with changing demand – will ensure long-term survival.

This was certainly the case at the recent ICSC Recon event in Las Vegas, where discussions on omnichannel were omnipresent, but offered little in the way of original thinking.

“The key is how the real estate market is reacting in real time to the changing retail landscape”

For me, the key is how the real estate market is reacting in real time to the changing retail landscape, and it’s here that the ‘urban environment’, as our hosts would describe it, comes out on top.

This is counter-intuitive since malls are generally in single ownership and therefore ‘manageable’, yet cities are a mishmash of every conceivable ownership structure.

This is where the action is and mall owners need to take note.

Maybe the world is waking up to the fact that convenience is only a small part of why we shop, even in this day of the transactional website.

Attention grabbing

The fact is that our attention still needs to be held if we are to return to the same locations time and again.

Air conditioned, marble floored corridors flanked by our favourite brands forget that occasionally we need to be thrilled rather than pampered.

For inspiration, we need to turn to the high street, the market and the diversity that evolved architecture provides.

Our leisure time has never been so prevalent and precious, and while demand for the speed and efficiency that online offers will continue, retailers that allow complacency to take over when it comes to offering an ‘experience’ will begin to lag behind.

Larger shopping centres have, in part, risen to the challenge, evolving to ensure the typical customer experience is re-imagined with entertainment and food and beverage propositions.

“It is the restaurant sector that has rolled up its white sleeves and faced this head on, putting the customer at the heart of what it offers”

However, it is the restaurant sector that has rolled up its white sleeves and faced this head on, putting the customer at the heart of what it offers and reinventing what it is to ‘eat out’.

As a confirmed ‘foodie’, this is the best news ever. Chefs are the new rock stars and the city centre is Madison Square Garden.

One other noticeable trend was rise of the ‘brand’ over the ‘retailer’.

News about physical retail concepts from the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and Google will always grab the headlines over more familiar high street staples.

The chain store is broken and the links need to reinvent themselves if they are to recapture the imagination of the thing they need the most – customers.

  • Mark Burlton is global executive, retail occupier, EMEA at property agency CBRE