Despite threats from the value sector and e-commerce, European outlet centres have continued to perform well in the last decade, bucking the negative trend.
In the outlet sector, as across the retail industry, adding food and beverage (F&B) and leisure operators to a tenant mix previously dominated by discount fashion has produced compelling results. But the biggest weapon in the battle for footfall is perhaps harnessing technology, according to sector giant Neinver.
The Spain-headquartered outlet specialist set up a digital business department a few years ago, focused on implementing custom technologies to tackle the convergence of physical and digital retail. According to Sergio Jiménez, Neinver’s digital business & IT director, it’s the first such platform in the outlet sector and could prove key in the fight against e-commerce.
‘This tool gives the brands highly valuable information about visitors’ shopping habits and tastes, while allowing us to improve areas such as leasing, management and marketing,’ Jiménez said. The firm has already started rolling out geolocation systems to track visitors’ behaviour in the centres, linking that to purchasing data, website visits and individual use of social media. ‘These systems are up and running in two of our centres in Madrid and Barcelona, and have successfully located approximately two million unique visitors since activation in 2016,’ he added.
‘One thing we’ve noticed since implementing this strategy is that visitors’ use of the free Wi-Fi is far greater in the F&B areas, letting us take advantage of those breaks to gain valuable information about visitors.
‘In addition, we implemented The Style Outlets e-commerce platform in Spain, offering our brands a new channel for selling the stock they have in the centres. The Style Outlets centres in Spain all have Click & Collect locations.
‘In our experience, e-commerce and physical shops are two complementary channels. Sometimes consumers choose the proximity and shopping experience of the physical shops, and sometimes the convenience of the online channel. The key is to combine and optimise them so that, on the one hand, you give the consumer every shopping option, and on the other, you enhance their shopping experience. To that end, we can use marketing intelligence systems to engage in cross-selling activities between the online and physical channels. So when we detect that someone who has bought through our e-commerce platform is entering the shopping centre, the stores can offer the customer personalised promotions.’
Earlier this year, European outlet group McArthurGlen appointed Phil Parry to the newly created role of chief information officer, leading technology operations and investments across the whole portfolio. The business has proved sensitive to trends in the past: in 2017, it increased its like-for-like F&B sales by 15% across the whole portfolio following a drive to improve and expand its dining offer.
One of its latest schemes, the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Málaga, being developed with Sonae Sierra, will become the first designer outlet in the south of Spain when it opens next year and is braced to exploit the experiential trend by capitalising on the region’s status as a holiday destination. ‘Located just three minutes by train from Málaga International Airport, our brand partners are particularly excited about the tourism potential of McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Malaga and how the new centre will attract additional tourism to the region,’ said Mike Natas, joint managing director of development at McArthurGlen.