03 February 2022

Reframing shopping centres for ‘unique experiences’

Denz Ibrahim, Head of Retail and Futuring for Legal & General Investment Management, explains how it is reimagining shopping centres as places for people to gather for experiences.

In October last year, shopping centre owner and developer Legal & General Investment Management started a trial of three initiatives as part of the first phase of its strategy, called "Reframe". The strategy has three elements – Gather, Street Market and Public – which aim to prioritise experiential retail through the introduction of indoor street markets, and the transformation of vacant units and “uninspiring shopping centre corridors” into leisure and lifestyle offerings.


Trialled at The Dolphin in Poole (pictured), it is subsequently being rolled out to three other shopping centres across the UK: The Grosvenor in Northampton, Overgate in Dundee, and The Beacon in Eastbourne. Legal & General has the ultimate ambition to roll these initiatives out, as part of its Future Retail Blueprint, across other retail assets, including retail parks. Denz Ibrahim, head of retail and futuring for Legal & General Investment Management Real Assets, explains the second phase of the strategy.

I joined Legal & General Investment Management in 2019, and was tasked with completely reimagining how we do retail, both spatially within our assets but also culturally across our business. Within 12 months, and amid a global pandemic, we had designed a Future Retail Blueprint, which was based around our mission to create incredible places for people, re-think the role of the landlord, refocus on treating the occupier as a partner and deliver sustainable, diversified value to our investors.

We believe selling through a market stall is a great way to test product in front of new customers

The onset of Covid accelerated the transformation, but the strategy was in motion long before the pandemic. The way that customers are choosing to shop has undergone a seismic cultural shift and we must create agile environments to respond to this. Customers are looking for fresh and exciting reasons to visit shopping centres, and want to be part of new experiences, creating memories that are impossible to replicate online.

By exploring and delivering ways to re-invent our retail places beyond the functional and convenient shopping experiences of the past, we must curate relevant content and moments that drive conversation, footfall, spend and collaboration.


Our strategy is based on three core pillars: Reframe, Remodel and Reposition.  We are reframing the function of the assets and the customers experience to pivot the perception.

We are remodelling the assets by diversifying the occupier base and the revenue models, and finally repositioning for the long term to ensure we create legacy-driven, future-fit places in the heart of our towns across the UK.

Our Gather, Street Market and Public programmes form part of the second phase of our strategy, Reframe. The first phase in April 2021 focused on creating a brand new curated high street, Kingland, next to The Dolphin Centre in Poole, to champion 10 local Dorset-based independents.

Since the launch of Kingland, six months ago, the brand new high street is contributing additional footfall that is 10% ahead of the national benchmark. The street has also created positive place-based impact by creating 31 new jobs for local people.

Gather, Street Market and Public are great examples of how we’re reframing the function of the assets and the customer experience.

Street Market

Street Market gives us a brand new format of space, to rent to independents that historically could never get access to our retail spaces (in shopping centres). These markets are animating our public realm and are completely curated by our in-house "community curators", attracting an array of partners, from brownie boutiques to event organisers and cosmetics brands.

Street Market provides tenants with an entry-level into shopping centre renting. We believe selling through a market stall is a great way to test product in front of new customers. Traders can book a space by the week, month or year and the diverse selection of traders in our marketplaces helps us to create an ecosystem of brands to draw shoppers in and increase centre dwell time.

In 2020, we launched a flexible partnership model based on turnover rent options, which gives our occupiers a complete range of rental options. Every street market occupier is on that model.


"Gather" is attracting a more events-based occupier with the ambition creating more "destinational" shopping centres. This gives people a new reason to come. We believe the future of shopping is about offering "activations" that support the community to experience and engage. Shopping is still an important reason for them to come to our places, but that alone is no longer enough.

As part of Gather, we have been using vacant spaces across our shopping centres to curate a series of localised events to drive new types of engagement. These range from yoga and boxercise to art classes and kids' clubs. We are aiming for nearly 1,000 events to be held across our shopping centres, each year.


"Public" forms the foundation of our Reframe strategy and sets the tone for the Street Market and Gather elements. Shopping centres frequently do two things badly: curating the customer journey and connecting one end of the centre to the other visually and spatially. Public addresses these things, but also reimagines the public corridors of a shopping centre, which were historically quite functional and forgottenIt focuses on providing links and connections between retail units to enhance the customer journey.

With the demise of several department stores in recent years, the traditional large-format retail as an anchor for shopping centres is no longer solely drawing shoppers in. Now customers need to have multiple reasons to visit.

We believe great public realm can become the anchor of tomorrow. This not only spatially connects the key components of a retail asset but also is a space in its own right, where people can interact and engage in the heart of their communities.

We launched the first Public project at Eastbourne’s Beacon centre in September 2021. It activates the spine of the centre between existing retail units and uses the space for public programmes around play, relaxing, work and networking. Three months since launch, we have seen footfall increase by 10% in the new public realm zones.

Role of the landlord

The re-imagination of shopping centres has prompted a massive shift in the role of the landlord. They were once thought of as the "librarians" of space, whose role was pretty static, centred around letting shops, collecting rent and cleaning spaces. However, to remain relevant for today’s ever-more demanding consumer, the landlord’s role has shifted to that of an editor. It is a role that focuses on understanding the customer better and curating "content" that relates to the audience – for example, through occupier selection, events programmes, hiring creatives in house and developing better conversational channels direct to customers. This means the death of sterile, cookie-cutter retail environments that are no longer relevant.

How it is measured

It is great to see the changes that have been made to our shopping centre offering since phase one was launched in April 2021 and phase two in October.

For everything we do, we have key value metrics and KPIs [key performance indicators] to deliver for our investors, occupiers and customers. We have worked incredibly hard to design a bespoke dashboard that allows us to measure the impact of the products we are launching. In our initial shopping centres, we are using data dashboards and score cards, which feed back to us live to understand how the customers are responding to what we are doing on the ground.

To monitor this, we use a series of data touchpoints, from "heat mapping" to understand customer behaviour, to credit card data to gain insight into dwell time, spend and journeys. This allows us to see more than just your standard property "hard" data, which is pretty functional. We need to understand how our initiatives are affecting behaviour and perception.

Our Gather, Market and Public programmes bring a fresh perspective on what shopping centres can and should provide for their communities. Our rethink of the investment and management of shopping centres aims to refocus value on treating the occupier as a partner rather than just a customer.

Fashion has undoubtedly been one of the categories most impacted by online. Therefore, we are naturally picking the right fashion partners that align with our future vision for our shopping centres, but also opening our doors within our spaces for online fashion businesses to blur the boundaries between digital and physical experiences for our customers.

The Reframe rollout is continuing and plays a pivotal role in the wider strategy, acting as the foundation with the longer-term mission to pivot these assets into places beyond just buying products but also services and experiences.

The strategy is adaptable for both our retail portfolio and wider consumer-facing environments. We want healthy, successful and profitable businesses in our schemes. Injecting vibrancy and experience enables us to turn a quick trip to the shops into a unique experience.

As appeared in Pensions Age on 11 January 2022. 

Denz Ibrahim