Value for money is always going to be a key motivator when it comes to shopper behaviour. But to keep customers loyal over time, their overall emotional connection with your shopping centre is vital, says one veteran shopping-centre manager.
“The most significant positive impact of a great customer experience is long-term loyalty,” says Olive Ndebele, general manager of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre in Pretoria. And one of the many challenges facing shopping centres today is how to consistently give their customers this great experience.
The 37-year-old four-level Menlyn Park mall has just undergone a two-year, R2-billion, three-phase expansion and refurbishment project that will position it as the largest shopping centre in Africa. Usually during giant projects of this kind, shoppers tend to swap loyalties to other malls to avoid the chaos and inconvenience of construction but footcount numbers to the centre actually increased during some phases of the building at Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, showcasing unusual resilience. Included in the reasons Ndebele cites for this atypical customer behaviour is the fact that the centre went to great lengths to ensure their customers were inconvenienced as little as possible, and to keep them engaged throughout the process. “We ensured that our customers continued to have great customer experiences in our mall, regardless of what was happening behind the scenes,” she says.
This philosophy is being carried over into the new Menlyn Park mall, which is much more than “just” a shopping centre: aside from a greatly expanded fashion wing hosting a range of international and local fashion brand stores, there’s the reconfigured two-level food and entertainment hub that includes 3D Nu Metro cinemas and the massive Fun Company centre, and a number of restaurants situated around a beautiful outdoor piazza. And, acknowledging the ever-growing number and diversity of its client base, a Prayer Centre will cater to Pretoria’s growing Muslim community.
The key to delivering a great customer experience, says Ndebele, is finding out what your customers need and want, and giving it to them. In the case of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, which has long been a popular mall in the country’s executive capital with its 100+ foreign embassies and consulates, customers include “residents of all the surrounding and outlying suburbs of Pretoria, a large contingent of foreign business people, diplomats and holidaymakers, and keen shoppers from other African countries, such as Nigeria and Mozambique, where big-name items are hard to find”, according to Ndebele. And, she adds, “We’ve put together a comprehensive tenant mix that caters to all our shoppers.”
But having great tenants doesn’t necessarily automatically translate into a great customer experience. “We live in a dynamic age of technology and innovation, and one in which caring for our customers has never been more important,” says Ndebele. “An unhappy customer can instantly share a negative experience with thousands of people through social media – but so can a customer who’s had great service. Customers are always looking for ways to feel valued, and ways to make their lives easier.”
Delivering this, says Ndebele, comes down to the personal touch – arguably, the one thing that online shopping can’t compete with in the bricks-and-mortar version. As an example Ndebele cites Menlyn Park Shopping Centre’s lightbulb concept of a “concierge service” during the last phase of the refurbishment, when friendly, efficient and well-trained staff members were stationed at busy nodes in the mall to answer queries and give directions, spoil shoppers with refreshments, and generally make sure that everybody felt genuinely cared for.
While many of today’s shoppers regard a visit to a mall like Menlyn Park Shopping Centre as an outing in its own right – during which they not only treat themselves to luxury purchases, and perhaps see a movie, play games or have a meal with family or friends – there are still those who want to simply “get in and get out”. “Career and business people, especially, don’t regard grocery shopping as a social event,” Ndebele points out. “They’re just trying to get a lot done in often very limited time.” For these shoppers, convenience and accessibility are paramount, and that’s the essence of the thinking behind the mall’s “Grocery Avenue”, with a Checkers Hyper, a Food Lovers Market and a Pick n Pay alongside each other in one section, with easy access to parking. The Pick n Pay offers even more for the busy shopper: banking services, drawing social grants, booking flights and car hire.
And proving that Menlyn Park Shopping Centre truly has gone the extra mile to cater for everyone, there are options, too, for those who like to shop at leisure while they stock their kitchen cupboards, says Ndebele: “There’s an in-store coffee shop and a take-away burger bar in the Checkers Hyper, and a seated eating area in the Food Lovers Market.”