Retail Entertainment and Leisure

Michael Connor
In the Middle East’s retail sector, a mall’s success hinges on a strong leisure and entertainment element. I explored this with Craig Hart, Senior Development Manager for Leisure at Al-Futtaim Group Real Estate.

The Middle East’s larger retail developments target broad lifestyle appeal, going beyond shopping to improve the total mall experience. In a region with few outdoor activities, the mall is a social hub for families and friends, offering air-conditioned environments with food & beverage, cinemas, and other entertainment and leisure provision.

Differentiating the Consumer Offering

These mall leisure and entertainment offers are core drivers of retail footfall, and owners seek to differentiate their mall via increasingly ambitious offerings. Mall customers are looking for experiences that go well beyond traditional shopping, and they now expect innovative attractions from the bigger players – for instance, the region’s first indoor Angry Birds theme park in development at Doha Festival City.

Retail as Theatre

The entertainment and leisure offer is ideally part of a wider strategy, recognising that a truly engaging shopping experience communicates with consumers via all their senses. This is retail as theatre, a leisure experience throughout the visit, where brand interaction becomes entertainment, and the mall’s own leisure facilities support this.

The temptation may be to site these facilities in less lucrative locations (the basement or the third floor), but this may not maximise the opportunity to increase dwell times. Placing the entertainment and leisure facilities where they contribute to the overall theatrical dynamic can give the best return on investment.

Digital Influence

As consumers now interact across various channels, they expect a seamless and integrated experience throughout their purchase journey. Retailers seek to integrate their digital and consumer strategies, recognising that online shopping and the physical store can no longer be treated as two separate channels.

Visitors to the mall increasingly refine their purchasing via online interaction while in the physical store. Mall owners should seek to maximise this digital opportunity, and can extend it to their entertainment and leisure provision. In an increasingly digital world, malls offer human contact, and a place for networking and relaxing.

Developer Decisions

In our experience, the following issues are key to successfully designed provision.

  • How much space to devote to direct or specific leisure/entertainment – typically 5 to 7 per cent.

  • Develop the leisure/entertainment offer oneself or seek a tenant?

  • If doing it oneself, how to manage the attraction properly.

  • Which demographic(s) to target.

  • How to segment the leisure/entertainment provision if more than one facility.

  • Which brands are best positioned around the leisure/entertainment?

  • Does the development warrant a unique attraction or leisure offer?

Assigning the Space

Leisure/entertainment generally gives less return on gross lettable area (GLA), but its significance for footfall gives it priority when allocating space. A different type of space is needed, so it’s advisable to identify the leisure/entertainment provision itself before assigning the space. Considering the provision in isolation usually brings problems; better results arise from considering how it interacts with the associated retail.

The facilities will ideally work integrally – the food court and cinema in close proximity to the leisure/entertainment, for example. The leisure/entertainment will ideally be anchored in a carefully considered zone, with retail brands carefully positioned to maximise the synergies. The brand clusters will depend to some extent on the shape of the mall.

Early Advice

Faithful+Gould provides project and commercial management services for new retail owners as well as experienced developers. Early advice is critical to successfully realising the value of the leisure/entertainment offer to the development as a whole. Our commercial experience enables realistic decision-making, where costs are integral to the planning and design.

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