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Comment: Shoppers want Viagra not vanilla, says placemaker Gabriel Murray of Studio 48

I don’t know how many times I have discussed placemaking with property developers and retailers over the last few years, with them looking at me as if I have just fallen out of a tree. Can everybody still think that retail malls and high streets are simply about filling the spaces, and not about creating customer engaging places?

Customers prefer to shop in stores, and we are told that time and convenience are the major factors behind why they shop online. But why is retail failing? I would say that ‘more of the same old, same old,’ is the real reason. Every customer trip to the mall, to the high street, or to the supermarket decreases expectations of real retail. The fun exciting aspects of shopping have become all too boring.

Customers want a real experience - a Viagra experience not the same old vanilla one.  

As designers and architects we need to create places that stimulate — places with the ‘X’ Factor that enhances the experience and leaves the customer wanting more.

The substance of this ‘X’ factor is in understanding what will work and what won’t for a specific location. A place must authentically deliver what it promises and customers need to have a genuine and real connection with it. A real retail place needs to provoke interest, offer uniquely special events, and have products that customers can enthral over and be part of.

Community and sustainability have an ever increasing role in the design of the environment and the impact it has on the modern customers. They offer an opportunity for positive community activities and social responsibilities within the tenant mix, and it’s a big old differentiator.

Design can meld the physical environment and online. Modern customers hold multisensory experiences through both digital and physical channels, combining work with shopping, or entertainment with shopping, or relaxing and shopping.

Unique attractions can generate footfall and integrate with the new holy grail of food and beverage (F&B) offer – providing interesting food experiences and bars that can chameleon-ise along with big screen entertainment events.

The restaurants can be high-end destinations – I never thought I’d say this, but just look at airports and the mix of F&B outlets there.

The creation of a successful retail environment requires a great master plan that clearly understands customer needs and that leads to places that are developed for all the future can bring in mind.

This only comes with the experience and the knowledge that what customers really, really want is the zigazig ha of shopping. This comes from uniquely designed experiences with an overwhelming sense of place. More  of the same just isn’t an option.

Gabriel Murray is founder and creative strategist at Studio 48

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