Coming from a strong commercial and retail experience background David Allinson is no stranger to supporting retailers in maximising space and increasing footfall. Senior roles across the leisure, travel retail and shopping centre industries have seen him tackle the challenges that operating in fast moving, innovative environments present – having successfully steered Warrington’s Golden Square, Manchester Airports Group, BAA and Bass before joining Manchester Arndale in 2011.


Here he shares his own seasonal observations – supporting the finding that sometimes seemingly obvious details do get overlooked, leading to the apparent disconnect that can plague even the most revered of retail brands.


With an emphasis on the in-store environment, David considers the make or break factors that turn soulless square footage into the highest performing, personalised shopping experiences that bring customers back for more – season after season:


Get the offer right.

There are some categories that will always win-out over the Christmas period. Toys, jewellery and technology are gifting givens. But what 2016 showed was that Christmas shoppers are as much in the market for treating themselves as they are tackling their Christmas shopping lists. Fashion sales pointed towards a noticeable trend for immediate satisfaction and retailers that had the foresight to pander to a more indulgent shopper mood were right on the money. The House of Fraser and Selfridges campaigns’ called it. Seasonal transactions are really important and if the offer doesn’t hit the mark – whether it’s down to buying wrong or external factors like unpredictable weather systems or bigger picture political concerns, retailers that can’t read the customer and tune into the macro and micro trends that are influencing those purchasing decisions will have an extremely difficult future.


Of course, it doesn’t just come down to relying on individual retailers to get their offers right. Our job is to keep a captive audience under The Centre’s roof for as long as possible, which means looking beyond the retail mix. Food and beverage, live events and experiential elements all come into play and as the custodian of a shopping destination we need to determine how we make the space work as hard as possible for everyone. Getting the offer really right relies on every aspect of the shopping experience – from start to finish and every bit of expenditure in-between.


Know your customer.

Clearly, you can’t get the offer right if you don’t really know your customer. Personalisation may be high on the agenda at head office but how far is this coming through at store level? River Island uses avatars to allow its staff the opportunity to get to know its customer base better. Topshop have created a VIP changing area to offer a different level of experience for a pre-determined profile of priority shopper. While All Saints have recruited Mandarin speakers to ensure its Asian following can have a shopping experience they feel truly at ease with – paying attention to details like not being presented with products off the peg, as is customary in China, is a case-in-point that demonstrates important cultural learnings.


Service and experience are certainly the biggest differentiators whatever the season but in the Christmas rush it clearly counts more than ever and, with a greater reliance on temporary staff, strategies for sustaining the highest levels of service that reflect the brand and reinforce customer loyalty are critical.


Amplify your brand values at every opportunity.

Lush leads the way in living the brand. Its emporium feel store environments invite shoppers into a sensory experience that cleverly conveys what the sustainability champion stands for at every opportunity. From the fixtures and fittings made from reclaimed materials, through to the in-store greenhouse nurturing fresh ingredients for its products, and the strategically placed wash basins for sampling, this is a brand that knows its customers and knows how all the seemingly little things add up to deliver big impact and an even bigger brand following that wants to share a love of all things Lush – come rain, shine or copious amounts of Christmas sparkle. Strong brand values that are reflected in the seasonal comms strategy make for a more subtle but impactful shopping experience.


Pay attention to every aspect of the experience.

As retailers get more sophisticated and technology delivers radical ways of shaping that experience, there is a danger of letting the shiny new stuff overshadow everything else. Oversights also tend to creep in when brands are going for concerted growth. Always looking to the next acquisition can mean things are missed in your existing portfolio.


Resilient retail brands know that everything down to the music makes a difference. And that every store presence counts.


For some brands, part of that physical store experience means taking it off-site. Pop-ups can create surprise, intrigue and an exclusivity element that is particularly effective for eagerly awaited product releases. High fashion and youth brands use this strategy well. Japanese retailers, in particular, tend to be very brand orientated and experiential in their approach. They know it’s all about letting the product speak for itself – sometimes being brave enough to ditch the branding altogether. Relying instead on strong graphics, supporting multimedia assets, social postings and celebrity endorsements that speak volumes about their brand values, tell the story effectively and set up the experience perfectly.


Box clever with collaborations.

Idris Elba’s partnership with Superdry, Madonna and H&M, and Beyonce’s Topshop tie-in are all testament to the power of celebrity endorsement. Brand collaborations can also be a bold and brilliant move. Victoria Secrets alignment with Pink is a prime example. Next and Lipsy less so. Striking a deal that makes a difference comes back to knowing the customer and for the face to fit it has to amplify every facet of the brand in surround sound and then some. Astute associations enhance the experience and impact the bottom line.

Manchester Arndale is investing £11m in a soon-to-open extended restaurant hub, as well as evaluating its leisure and experiential offer to capitalise on the City’s ongoing infrastructure investment. David is working alongside retailers, property agents and owners to optimise every square metre and create a more exciting, experience-led centre that will make Manchester Arndale a ‘whole day’ shopping destination of distinction.