Much has changed in the world of retail during the past decade and it is only at industry gatherings such as the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) earlier in the year and Mapic this week that we can truly get an overall picture of just how far things have come.

Martin Plocica

Arguably, one of the most significant evolutions has been the integration of leisure activities across shopping centres. Accelerated by the wake of the financial crisis as landlords and occupiers had to look beyond a pure retail concept to tempt shoppers through their doors, as well as evolving consumer attitudes towards the casual dining market, the era of ‘retailtainment’ was born and is now in full swing.

Creating retail theatre is not an entirely new concept, but with the power of the online environment attracting a lot more functional retailing, retailers have had to re-assess their in-store strategy and landlords have had to think smarter about how we continue to keep our offer appealing to customers.

At Hammerson, to create Europe’s leading retail destinations, we recognised early on that key to attracting and retaining the very best tenants is our ability to facilitate experiences beyond pure retail that can capture and extend customer dwell time. This has led to the adoption of a strategic, insight-led approach that allows our centres to showcase the very best of retail with the right catering and leisure mix - ultimately creating destinations where more happens.

A prime example of ‘retailtainment’ in action is our recent 110,000 sq ft catering and leisure extension at Silverburn in Glasgow. The dramatic upgrade of the existing leisure space has seen the centre now anchored by a 73,000 sq ft, 14-screen Cineworld Superscreen cinema - a first for Glasgow - offering 11 new restaurants and significant public realm. And Silverburn has reaped the rewards, with dwell times increasing 14%, lifting like-for-like centre sales by 5%.

The change in consumer habits that has led to an increased frequency in families eating out has been a catalyst for the rapid growth of the casual dining market across UK shopping centres. At Hammerson, we have seen a 30% increase in space let to restaurants and cafés since 2010, and adding leisure operators into the mix, total floor space now stands at 930,000 sq ft, representing 12.6% of space occupied by food and beverage and leisure operators within our centres, indicating more growth to come.

A beneficiary of the shifting consumer trends, a successful centre’s dining offer is now more than just a food court. With a wealth of international cuisines, new dining concepts and formats, many restaurant brands are now anchors in their own right and contributors to overall rental income.

In addition to the best leisure and dining offers, commercial initiatives including personal shopping services, upgraded customer service desks, electric car charging points, mobile charging facilities and children’s play areas, as well as click and collect provisions, all enhance customer experience. A great example of how entertainment enlivens the shopping trip has been the arrival of Yamaha digital baby grand pianos in each of our UK shopping centres. The pianos, which are free for anyone to play, have proved extremely popular with our customers, so much so that at Highcross in Leicester a star pianist was uncovered after a video of a shopper playing went viral, receiving more than 200,000 views on Facebook. It is initiatives such as these that, if well executed, can make the shopping experience even more exciting, engaging as well as convenient for our customers.

So what’s next in retailtainment? Word from Mapic suggests anything from indoor trampoline parks to specialist video gaming areas could be on the cards. There isn’t yet a magic formula for what the optimum mix of leisure and retail space is, but what is clear is that the continued success of shopping centres will be driven by the ability of landlords to continue to create experience-led, inspirational retail and leisure destinations that reflect changing shopper habits and offer something new and exciting for the whole family.

Martin Plocica is director, UK and Ireland shopping centres at Hammerson