Property Analysis - Shopping centres need to sharpen customer offer

In pursuit of commercial advantage, shopping centres have been seen as prime candidates to adopt recent retail and property innovations, such as branding, asset management and the 'sparkle' of 'shoppertainment'.

Unusual sources of inspiration being thrown up by this constant commercial quest are now adding a rich vein of new resources that the shopping centre industry can draw on.

At last week's BCSC Shopping Centre Management Conference in Manchester, delegates were encouraged to adopt the English Tourism Council's established Welcome to Excellence customer service training programme. Designing training programmes suited to both centre management and shop staff has proved very tricky, but the low-cost Welcome to Excellence training can 'provide a common focus', argued former senior hotelier Joe Azzopardi, who now manages Andover's Chantry Centre. Hammerson has given weight to the ETC's programme, adopting it at The Oracle in Reading and West Quay in Southampton.

Shopping centre managers, faced with security problems and over-stretched police forces, are being encouraged to take the law into their own hands.

With shopping centres a focus for anti-social behaviour and the industry traditionally seen as a management career for former police officers, the suggestion shopping centres can adopt measures themselves to combat shoplifters and louts successfully is falling on fertile ground.

BRC retail crime expert Michael Schuck, an ex-policeman himself, is a firm advocate of retailers, shopping centres, town centre management and other bodies establishing Partnership Strategy Boards under the 1998 Crime & Disorder Act. About 250 of these crime-fighting boards have been set up, to control CCTV, share information and allow exclusion notices to be issued, effectively banning known troublemakers from members' premises, including local stores and shopping centres.

Exclusion notices do not require the courts and can be issued by shopping centres or partnership boards.

Managing behaviour

'This is providing an effective way of managing people's behaviour,' says Schuck. Glasgow has seen retail crime reduced by 22 per cent in the six months since the city's retail crime partnership was set up. Partnerships are also proving successful in obtaining anti-social behaviour orders through the courts against known shoplifters and troublemakers.

Social change and its relevance for the shopping centre industry, clearly identified in the recent Shopping Centre Futures study commissioned by the BRC and shopping centre developer Grosvenor, points to opportunities and challenges facing shopping centres in targeting a maturing, more demanding population.

US research has highlighted that two-thirds of all lost customers result from businesses or staff member's indifferent attitudes to consumers, says Speciality Retail Group director Alex Brick.

Hotel operations are an unlikely source of inspiration for shopping centres to draw on, points out Karl Kalcher, managing director of innovation consultancy Mindfolio. Techniques used to create a sense of welcome in hotel lobbies could be easily applied to shopping centres.

He says that by creating a 'superior guest experience' for shoppers, by using hotel techniques for furniture, flowers, entrance areas, signs and services, could pay bigger dividends than providing entertainment or special events.

Event management is another way of fostering creative ideas. For example, the recent Windsor Fashion Week, backed by the Berkshire town's shopping centres and produced at little cost, generated media coverage worth more than£430,000.