Friday 11 September 2015

Why We Need A Food Court In The Top End Of QVM

Much of the retail revolution concentrates on the influence of digital connections but the shift in the role of food is forcing many retail planners to reassess their food offer and adjust their product mix to suit social connections as well.

As traditional bricks'n'mortar retailers either succumb to new retailing expectations or adjust their footprint (usually down-sizing) the gap is being filled by food operators. And this is not just retail managers seeking to fill gaps in their tenancy list - it is demand driven. As one QVM trader lamented this week -"Shoppers who used to buy an item of clothing or a fashion accessory off me are now spending their spare cash on casual food". Casual food is more likely to be the coffee & croissant type event rather than traditional fast food and it has a strong social element.

The strength of food is hardly hidden as cafe & restaurant categories consistently show growth in retail sales while other categories falter. Our own Night Market is a successful retail operation with a very strong food bias. It is about getting out, socialising, and having fun. And many retail planners have decided it is an essential element of any shopping destination.

The UK's Intu Properties group owns some of the UK's biggest and best shopping centres and it has worked out that getting customers to dwell just one extra minute in their centres can add over A$100m to annual sales. Food is important in achieving that extra dwell time - Shopping centres are no longer just big shopping areas with a food court attached — its an all-singing-and-dancing destination with shops, restaurants, activities and events. Shopping hours have also changed and consumers act differently". Intu has seen strong growth in their food outlets over the last few years growing from 340 to over 3,000.

Closer to home we see that Westfield claims one in three of its customers eat during their shopping trip - “I guess on our journey on what people really want, food has changed a lot in the past three or four years.”“The customer wants urban, authentic food. Cultured, curated food. It’s not expensive, it’s moderately-priced and the customer just wants to go out and have a great experience. Food is the new fashion of what we are doing.” A Stocklands spokesperson recently said - “Human beings are gregarious by nature and our customers are increasingly looking for opportunities to reconnect with family and friends in the real world, so the food offerings with Stockland shopping centres have to be something special.” “It’s good business for us to encourage our customers to linger longer, and that means creating beautiful, relaxing environments where people want to stay a while.”

Getting customers to dwell in the top end of QVM could have benefits for all its traders. We are not a shopping centre but like every retail outlet on the globe we are experiencing the massive shift in consumer attitudes and practices. And the casual food offer is undeniably an important ingredient. Creating a viable food court in the top end will likely add to the attractiveness of the destination for consumers and increase their dwell time (and spending). Customers often complain about having to walk up endless aisles to do their shopping in the top end which is why creating a dwell space to break up their trip makes so much sense.

A number of traders have talked about the difficulties of weather exposure for a Food Court at the top end of E/F Sheds, but we are an open air market, and if the following paragraph from the website of architectural firm, i2C, is a guide, then it could be to our advantage - "Gone are the days of just grabbing a burger and some chips as you rush through the retail precinct. People expect more than just a food court hidden somewhere within the mall with cramped seating and the smell of grease. They want somewhere to meet with friends, take a break, re-energise and maybe get their kids out of their hair while they enjoy a gourmet sandwich and a coffee. Food precincts offer the unique experience of quick, convenient and casual dining with quality design, fresh air, sunshine and a relaxing environment— a little oasis ......."