This question is informing many of our decisions at Shaftesbury as we strategically evolve our dynamic London West End neighbourhoods. While people may come to an area for one reason, it can be something very different that prompts them to stay and spend more time.

Traditionally, retail has been a hero in terms of drawing footfall and maximising dwell time. But as online shopping is further integrated into our lives, and we increasingly prioritise experience, destinations must help people rediscover the joys of shopping for pleasure by placing greater emphasis on unique in-store initiatives, dining and leisure.

An example of this is Seven Dials, central to London’s West End. Fortunate in its rich history and interconnecting layout, the destination has become synonymous with independent, one-of-a-kind stores, and it is often also the first choice for global brands choosing a debut UK bricks-and-mortar retail home.

While the shopping line-up is a major pull factor for visitors, it cannot sustain a mass audience alone. What engages and holds people in the destination are the theatres, cafes, hotels, bars and restaurants. In light of this, we have consciously curated a vibrant mix of retail and food and beverage (F&B) outlets, and fostered established zones such as the wellness and healthy lifestyle-centric Neal’s Yard in Seven Dials. Our experience-led approach to placemaking also includes investment in a year-round programme of events, installations and public activations.

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Seven Dials Market

Another example of the shift is seen in the recently-launched Seven Dials Market, a redeveloped 24,000 sq ft former banana warehouse now housing a collection of the most exciting street food traders alongside a florist, grocer, bookshop and event space. Whether it’s a mid-shopping coffee, pre-theatre bite or an evening grazing and enjoying the buzzy food-hall ambience, Seven Dials Market is a new centre of gravity that intuitively binds everything else in the destination, including retail, together.

We’re also seeing brands at Seven Dials pioneering this shift within their own stores. Indian brand Napa Dori opened its UK flagship on Seven Dials’ Monmouth Street earlier this year, incorporating its café concept, Café Dori, which serves traditional chai tea in ceramic cups. Customers are offered a rich and immersive experience, which in turn buoys the retail offering of luxury leather goods.

This wider integration of offer in retail environments is supported by recent research by CACI, which has found that 50% of people visiting primarily for F&B or leisure go on to spend on retail, highlighting the value of an integrated tenant mix. In addition, regardless of the original reason for visiting a destination, anyone that spends on F&B during a visit has a 48% higher retail spend during their trip, compared to visitors who just shop.

Ultimately, the true heart of a destination is atmosphere, which stems from people. Prioritising experience can help to avoid quick in-and-out retail visits and properly engage and sustain visitors to dwell, enjoy and make repeat visits.

Julia Wilkinson is portfolio & group restaurant strategy executive at Shaftesbury