The future of retail is about creating complete ecosystems

The future of retail is about creating complete ecosystems
Víctor Fernández
Asset Manager, MERLIN Properties

Our customers are increasingly demanding, aware and responsible when it comes to making decisions. They are not only trying to satisfy a shopping or leisure need but are looking for a complete experience. Shopping becomes a recreational event in itself and Retail and Leisure Spaces are forced to adapt to accompany them on this Customer Journey that begins long before they pass through the doors of our centres.

In order to meet their demands, the coexistence of online and offline environments in shops has become an essential requirement. Thanks to the emergence of new digital channels, users anticipate their shopping or leisure decisions. That is why it is our responsibility to create an ecosystem and a community around our centres that is much broader, to turn them into places for socialising, where there is always something going on, with extensive agendas of events and activities, interacting more and more, and continuously, with our tenants and users.

Consumers want to experience the brand experience first-hand, regardless of the channel they use. In other words, the customer journey is changing from a one-way road to a major highway with multiple directions and exits, where the physical and the digital are intertwined.

Physical retail is still the first choice of customers. Touching, seeing and feeling the product or service before purchasing it, and the personalised attention offered by establishments throughout the purchase cycle are differential advantages, and in the famous fight for immediacy, there is no more immediate and effective purchase than the one made in a physical establishment. The consumer enters, looks, tries on, and leaves with the garment on, if necessary. We all know that the great Achilles' heel of exclusively digital commerce is the well-known returns, which reduce brands' profits. Therefore, many operators born in the digital market end up making the move to physical commerce.

Experience has shown us that the physical and digital channels were not two different and opposing sides, but two necessarily complementary channels. It is this union that results in a quality experience, as it allows us to better understand the changing needs of customers through the use of big data. This opens a wide range of possibilities to make the customer the protagonist of their purchases. In this sense, offering the consumer information in advance about the catalogue of products and services available in the centres allows us to make a commitment to a more sustainable environment by guaranteeing success every time they go to the store.

In a changing market such as the retail one, at MERLIN we always like to be aware of new formulas that allow us to offer a better service to our customers. An example of this is Retailtech, the hub developed by MERLIN Properties and Lanzadera that aims to put the new challenges of the sector on the map. It promotes initiatives aimed at innovation and with a clear vocation to continue advancing in the process of digitisation and innovation in our centres.

Thus, the hub has awarded prizes to two retail firms such as La Más Mona - which supports the circular economy thanks to its concept of fashion and accessories rental, with a pilot project already inaugurated in Arturo Soria Plaza (Madrid) - or Kraft & Walkers - which creates an environment for digital native brands to have a physical point of sale - a pilot project that is being developed in Saler (Valencia). In addition, two technological startups have also been finalists, Wipasss -which creates a direct communication channel with the customer to send instant and personalised messages and Gus -which uses AI to improve the quality of customer service through Whatsapp and RRS.

Under this premise, shopping centres are becoming the cornerstone of the industry. The wide variety of possibilities they offer makes them a place for socialisation and immersive experiences. Clear examples of this are some of MERLIN Properties' assets such as X-Madrid, Arturo Soria Plaza, Artea, Larios, Arenas de Barcelona or Porto Pi, which, with their complete retail and leisure offer, their wide range of activities and events and their privileged locations, transform these spaces into places for shopping, leisure, recreation and meeting.

Operators, Managers and Centre Owners are fully aligned, we know the importance of offering something more to our customers, playing with their tastes and passions to make them leave home and come to our centres. The discourse of "online" versus "offline" is outdated. It is a task that requires effort and perseverance, but if we manage to meet consumers' expectations, success is guaranteed. Now, more than ever, we must realise that the customer is at the centre of everything.

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