Entertainment is malls’ trump card over e-tail, SCTLive panel says

SCTLive

Publish Date: October 23, 2014

Shopping centers must strive to be more entertaining and engaging if they want to maintain their edge in an increasingly multichannel retail sector, panelists said this week at an SCTLive discussion titled “Entertainment Infusion,” in Dallas.

For starters, a range of dining options is important to keeping customers enthused, panelists said. Many shopping centers are taking note, undergoing renovations that cluster restaurants and place them at the front, said David C. Palmer, executive vice president of Cencor Realty Services.

“Retail centers have made an effort to make restaurants more of an attraction,” said Patrick G. Colombo, president and CEO of Restaurant Works, which operates several upscale Dallas eateries, including the Crú Food & Wine Bar chain. Authenticity is important in winning repeat customers, Colombo said. “Become a part of the fiber of the community,” he said. “Even if the restaurant is part of a chain, don’t lead with the fact that you are part of a corporation.”

Fast-casual restaurants are gaining popularity among families, grabbing market share from fast-food operators and driving more repeat visits to shopping centers, said Gar Herring, CRX, CDP, president and CEO of The MGHerring Group. “It has become an acceptable substitute for a home meal. Mom doesn’t have to feel like she’s given up.”

An innovative movie theater is also important to the entertainment equation. “A movie theater is a great centerpiece,” said Scott Beck, president of Beck Ventures. It can serve as a landmark and a central gathering spot, he said.

Even given today’s high-tech home-entertainment systems, people still want to get out of the house, said Charles P. Stilley, president of development at Leawood, Kan.–based Look Cinemas. Westfield is one mall operator that has done a good job integrating movie theaters into its properties by creating a dining terrace around the movie theater entrance, Stilley said. Even at the movies, he says, food plays a key role. The Look chain offers patrons a range of food and drink options to enjoy while they watch their movies, in addition to luxury seating, wide aisles and a high-energy, upscale atmosphere. About 70 percent of Look’s sales come from food, Stilley said.

Design makes all the difference in whether your center becomes a hangout or a ghost town, Beck said. “Create a cool space despite what’s being sold there,” he said. “People are craving authenticity.”

Friendly, knowledgeable customer service and quick checkout is important too. “Customer service has been on the decline for the past 20 years,” Stilley said. “Apple succeeds because they focus on that in their stores.”

E-commerce and mobile commerce are also helping shopping centers become more entertaining by making them more interactive, Herring said. “Engagement is entertainment,” he said, pointing out that consumers like to use apps to hunt for deals at malls and to research goods online to be better informed when they go to a store. “The regional mall is a great invention, powerful but inflexible,” Herring said. “Trying to turn it into an entertainment complex is legally, fiscally and competitively hard, but it’s worth the effort. When people trust an experience, they come back.”

More about Look Cinema is available here.