LONDON – Business at Bicester Village Shopping Collection hasn’t returned to normal after the pandemic – and Scott Malkin couldn’t be happier.
The group, which has 11 luxury shopping villages in England, Ireland, mainland Europe and China, said it has seen the quality of sales improve since the lockdown ended and seen further proof of its concept of retail as a hotel business.
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Similar to what luxury brands have experienced as they navigate the various global bottlenecks, BVSC has seen its sales shift to the digital sphere and a surge in spending from local customers.
“There is no going back to normal,” said Malkin, founder and chairman of BVSC parent company Retail value. He added that over the past 18 months, the company has become more sophisticated and rigorous in terms of its approach to customer acquisition and experience – and its relationship with brands.
Priorities have changed: Malkin believes that outdoor shopping has a new appeal in the post-pandemic world today, with customers viewing villages as “oases of comfort and welcome.”
That’s why he believes it’s more important than ever to deliver a neat offering to visitors and to work as closely as possible with brands to ensure inventory and merchandising are top notch. Indeed, the company continues to market itself to brands as a “full-price customer acquisition platform,” rather than a place to park inventory out of season.
These include Monica Marsilli, formerly Vice President and Global Director of General Merchandise at Gucci and Director of Purchasing and Merchandising at La Rinascente, and Paul Price, formerly Director of Merchandise at Burberry and Executive Vice President of Lucky Brand. Jeans.
Value Retail has also recruited Franck Collin, former Managing Director of DFS, Group Merchandise Director of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and Guillaume Desjardins who was previously Director of Global Customer Experience at Givenchy and Director of Customer Experience Europe at Ralph. Lauren.
According to the company, sales growth throughout the summer and early fall has accelerated, while the average transaction value across the collection is up 13% from 2019.
Villages including La Vallée in France; Maasmechelen in Belgium; Wertheim and Ingolstadt in Germany and Kildare in Ireland saw their spend per visit increase by 25-32% compared to 2019.
Spending per visit to Shanghai Village increased 82%, while Suzhou Village increased 47% in the nine months to September compared to 2019.
In terms of total sales growth, China led the way with sales at Suzhou Village and Shanghai Village up 78% and 113%, respectively, compared to the same period in 2019.
According to Malkin, BVSC has worked hard to hone its relationships with both its “guests” – as he refers to customers – and brands. Malkin never wanted to go the e-commerce route – he sees these shopping villages more as luxury resorts than retail outlets – but that hasn’t stopped him and his team from delivering digitally for locking.
The villages offer virtual purchases with customers able to contact the stores directly, to make an appointment to make their purchases virtually by phone, video call, e-mail or WhatsApp.
The company said that in the first half of 2021, 14% of total sales in villages in Europe came from virtual shopping services, launched in early 2021.
During the summer, as the visitation to villages increased significantly, BVSC said that the average transaction value of purchases made using the virtual shopping service also increased, reaching nearly seven times the amount of those done in person.
Like luxury stores – and brands – BVSC organizes special events for customers and increases its offer of personalized shopping in the villages.
Over the past year, it has organized over 355 special branded events in its European villages and nearly 100 in China. “These events, held both in our Village Apartments and in the stores, contributed significantly to customer acquisition, average transaction value and spend per visit,” the company said.
Before the pandemic, many villages were poles of attraction for tourists, Bicester being a prime example. Until COVID-19 hit Bicester, outside Oxford, was the second most visited site for Chinese tourists in the UK after Buckingham Palace.
With inbound travel still recovering in the UK and various quarantine measures still in place around the world, tourism has slowly recovered. BVSC said it saw “the first green shoots of a tourism rebound” during the summer months.
In the collection as a whole, visits from Saudi Arabia increased by 146%; Kuwait by 102%; Qatar by 172% and the United Arab Emirates by 91. The number of Americans increased by 7% year-on-year in the first nine months.