‘I think customers’ expectations for a one-stop shopping experience are much stronger now and much more important than ever

‘I think customers’ expectations for a one-stop shopping experience are much stronger now and much more important than ever

Competition for retail drives investment

Shopping centres build – and rebuild – to lure new customers and new businesses

The retail landscape in Greater Victoria is getting a major facelift in 2013.

Uptown, in Saanich, drew clothing giants H&M, Joe Fresh and Forever 21.

Tillicum Centre is one of two Capital Region malls that knocked down defunct Zellers stores to make way for Target.

And Hillside is partway through an $83-million upgrade that will see its footprint grow by 55,000 square feet, and welcome Target and Marshalls locations to the Victoria mall.

The region’s shopping centres are vying for your business, and the changes are all part of that competitive strategy.

“I think customers’ expectations for a one-stop shopping experience are much stronger now and much more important than ever,” said Kerry Shular, general manager of Hillside Shopping Centre.

While her shopping centre undergoes a major physical expansion, she says a mall’s dedication to customer service and improving the shopping experience are some of the most important factors in staying competitive and relevant.

“Ten years ago there was no such thing as a customer service concierge,” said Shular.

She points to offerings such as diapers, bottled water, treats for kids and strollers that her customer service reps dole out to “make the visit more comfortable and less stressful, if you run in to any unforeseen problems with children.”

Darlene Hollstein, general manager of The Bay Centre, says she has to think strategically different than other malls because of its location and customer base.

“We’re landlocked. The only way we can expand is up,” she says. “What we do is refine the products that we have, and maintain our look and feel.”

The Bay Centre, she says, changes drastically in the summer months because a huge spike in tourists means she needs to provide a different customer experience. Last September, for instance, it donated space for a major piece of 3-D art in concert with Victoria’s first chalk art festival.

“We’re seen more as a venue of service for the public than a typical shopping centre,” Hollstein says.

That’s where creating a well-served experience comes in. Hollstein points to multiple upgrades to the washrooms at The Bay Centre as one of the ways she continues to offer a better shopping experience.

“Most people judge a business by its washrooms. If you provide better, nicer washrooms that are a more appealing, it’s a different way to stand out from your competitors,” she said.

Uptown, the newest shopping centre in Greater Victoria – though technically a major expansion of the old Town & Country, touts its exclusive retailers as being key for its own draws, but also beneficial to the South Island’s overall retail growth.

“There’s some pent-up demand (in Victoria). Those aren’t dollars that were being spent elsewhere on the Island. People were travelling to Vancouver or Seattle for H&M and Forever 21,” said Geoff Nagle, director of development for Morguard Investments Ltd., which owns and operates Uptown.

“This keeps dollars in the market where they’re supposed to be circulating.”

Uptown, while not laid out like a traditional mall, focuses on being a one-stop shop for goods and services, but also provides space in its centre courtyard for events and shows.