The Future of the European Shopping Experience

The future shopping centre lies at the intersection of user experience, technology and design. We’ve identified four overarching themes that will impact shopping centres across Europe for decades to come.

Food Reigns

Food and dining experiences are quickly becoming the gluten that holds retail together and that will be doubly so for the shopping centre of the future. Up-and-coming shopping centres are swiftly moving away from food courts or even deconstructed food courts to a flexible food model. Food as entertainment, from festivals and chef demonstrations to cooking classes and farmers’ markets, are rapidly becoming big draws for shoppers across Europe, with the ratio of food service to retail and other amenities expected to top 20% over the next ten years.

  • Shopping centre dining in the future will focus on decentralised eating, allowing customers to eat and drink anything, anywhere. We can also look forward to robot delivery for some added futuristic appeal.
  • And don’t think social responsibility stops at Fair Trade goods; composting your meals, flexible portions to cut down on waste, on-site gardens, and food charity programs are all part of the new string of enlightened eating establishments.
  • Just as we expect this kind of conscious dining to get bigger than ever, we see the experience of food becoming more global and more social: according to Univision Communications, 44% of Millennials in the United States have posted a photo of food on social media. Their European counterparts aren’t far behind; Facebook IQ shows that 23% of users in France, Germany and the UK said Instagram has empowered them to see and do more in life. The upshot for brands is that any dining or retail experiences that have a visual “wow factor” that garners likes, shares and retweets for their customers will have an edge over traditional models.

Connecting People, Moving Goods

To compete for shoppers’ valuable time, it’s all about unprecedented convenience, movement and speed from customer to goods—and vice versa. And no matter how much technology changes how we shop in the coming decades or how innovative we become, being an integral part of the community is the best way to keep loyal customers coming back week after week.

  • Connection options are key for European shopping centres, as up to 40% of journeys across the EU are completed by cycle or on foot and 57 billion passenger journeys are made by local public transit in the EU every year, according to UITP. The more convenient it is to reach the shopping centre of the future by public transit, the better.
  • The car has some catching up to do: pedestrians and bus users spend more than motorists during shopping trips (source: Urban Pollinators Ltd), and in the UK, 65% of respondents to a survey said the cost of parking put them off shopping locally (source: Based on current tech trends, the cars of the future will be battery-powered, able to travel longer distances and more lightweight. They will also have the capacity to self-drive (or at least self-park). Being able to get in and out of a shopping centre easily and quickly will be a vital part of the modern shopping experience.
  • Instant gratification is alive and well. That applies to everything from delivery to fashion lines. Free overnight delivery and click-and-collect are becoming standard and shopping centres will need to continue improving the speedy experience to stay competitive. Fast fashion will continue to grow, but the trick will be making the supply chain ethical enough to meet increasing consumer standards for transparency.

Digital Meets Physical

From personal shopping to central fitting rooms to programming and events, today’s centres are promoting lifestyles over products. The difference in the shopping centre of the future will be the technology. Rather than being a stand-alone entity, technology will help the cause by connecting tech and in-store experiences. Even now, shoppers are growing accustomed to algorithms that generate customised recommendations based on their preferences and behaviours.

  • “Pure play” or single channel retail will go the way of the dinosaurs in the future, but the in-store experience will continue to be as important as ever. According to ICSC, 90% of purchases in Europe still occur in store, and JLL says that 82% of Millennials prefer to shop in stores, although they do spend a great deal of time browsing and researching products online.
  • So-called digital natives aren’t the only ones who demand a seamless integration between technology and the store experience; Savills says that more than 33% of people over 75 in the UK will be using the internet by 2030, compared to less than 10% today.
  • The concept of virtual fitting rooms is starting to materialize, but the infrastructure must be in place before it can happen. In the future, customers will be able to shop all the brands in a shopping centre online, and their selected merchandise will be ready to try on when they arrive at their fitting room.
  • Scanning technology will ensure the best “fit” and can offer recommendations based on their style and past purchase history. This may all sound very expensive to implement, but customers who try on clothes are far more likely to make a purchase. As for the customer experience, eliminating path-to-purchase obstacles like long queues or tracking down a shop assistant will increase sales and shopping centre loyalty.

Customise for Loyalty

Influenced by everything from pop-up shops and Snapchat to flash mobs and food trucks, future shoppers will come to expect something new every time they go to a shopping centre. That’s why programming is becoming a vital part of many shopping centres’ operations. To this end, tomorrow’s shopping centres must be flexible and accommodating to changing experiences, events and installations.

  • So-called “big data” is making that easier than ever. Some older consumers have trouble accepting the idea of giving up personal information, but younger shoppers tend to be more comfortable with providing some information in exchange for a more personal, meaningful shopping experience. Ultimately, that means “big data” will get bigger than ever as consumers change their mindsets.
  • Beacons, apps, virtual sizing booths, and other highly personalised technology experiences will give shoppers exactly what they want, whenever and wherever they want it.
  • We’re far from hearing the death knell of the in-store shopping experience, but service is key: TimeTrade reports that 90% of shoppers are likely to buy after receiving help from knowledgeable in-person staff. And L2 Retail found that when online retailers open physical stores, the traffic to their e-commerce store increases dramatically.
  • Pop-up stores are good for the bottom line as well, allowing retailers to dip a toe in the waters of a new market or test out new concepts: StoreFront confirms that launching a pop-up store is 80% less expensive than opening a traditional shop. Ultra-flexible design and a rotating mix of the freshest brands, pop-up stores and markets give shoppers a “get it before it’s gone” incentive to keep heading in-store.
  • While futuristic shopping centres and developers are busy creating experiences, retailers will need to create immersive and/or virtual branded “worlds” that shoppers just have to see and experience.