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The Secrets Of A Successful Shopping Center In France

We recently spoke to Delphine Merle of Unibail-Rodamco, who is the commercial director of Carré Sénart shopping center in France.
In a wide-ranging conversation we found out a lot of details about the extension being worked on there and the firm’s overall approach to keeping shopping fresh and exciting for their many visitors.

Firstly, Delphine pointed out that the center isn’t as “classical” as some people might think. It was launched in 2002 and was very advanced at that time. In fact, she pointed out that it was the “first mall opened with open sky”, referring to the amount of natural light that the design allows to flood into it.

Carré Sénart France

She also pointed out that it offers a lot of leisure possibilities, including a highly popular cinema. From day one it has been “a very successful mall”, with some 8 million visitors expected in the first year but an actual visitor figure of 11 million for that period. Interestingly, the center’s position in the south of Paris rather than the heart of the capital hasn’t stopped it from adding a number of “international and premium retailers”. Delphine called it “a place where international brands are very happy to come” and are very successful.

A Big Catchment Area

The success of the center means that it was “very natural” for Unibail-Rodamco to add an extension to it. The main point of the extension is to “reinforce our positioning in terms of fashion”, and to add extra credibility in the catchment area. On the subject of the catchment area for Carré Sénart, Delphine pointed out that it is larger than is the case with many other malls. Indeed, they have an impressive 64% penetration rate in the area between 30 and 45 minutes away from the center.

At this point, we took the opportunity to ask whether the center is aimed purely at locals or at tourists as well. She said that it is really local people but that they have no real competitors, giving them a wide catchment area. They are “the only big player” in a large region of the South of Paris where the average income is higher than normal. Unusually, they are able to count up to 45 minutes away as their catchment area, rather than the typical 30 minutes used by other shopping centers.

65 New Stores Being Added

As for the extension itself, the idea is to add 65 new stores, bringing them up to 200 stores and making it one of the top malls in France. They now get 15 million visitors annually and the extension will increase the size of GLA from 83,000 square meters up to 110,000. Delphine also remarked that they have excellent satisfaction rates, with a current rate of 86%. This is the highest rate of the entire Unibail-Rodamco portfolio in France. She said that the center had a great first year in 2002 and that “it hasn’t stopped growing since then”.

Moving on to the food, Delphine told us that they want to welcome their customers “with a very good food offer”. She said that full details haven’t yet been finalized, as it will be revealed a bit later on. The fact that they have such a popular cinema (it is number 5 in France) means that it is an attractive center for restaurants to enter, anyway. The end result is likely to be a mix between local, national, and international food offers.

Carré Sénart Paris

A year ahead of the opening, they have “now reached 60% pre-letting”, which they are quite happy with. Among the retailers joining the center are “a lot of good brands”, such as New Balance and Next. Delphine then told us that it is important to “keep the balance” that the shopping center has always had. This means having a mixture of beauty, fashion, and household goods, together with the restaurants and entertainment options. We asked about new brands that could arrive to France for the first time and she told us that exclusivity is important to them, whether it is on a national or local level.  

A Smart Parking App

In terms of technology to be used in the center, Delphine pointed out that they have a “strong digital policy”. For example, they have launched mobile apps such as a smart parking app that lets shoppers find their car more easily. They launch regular initiatives that aim to “simplify the visit” of their customers. They also have another app that lets you find the retailer you are after, sometimes with a relevant offer attached to the directions. So far, they have had a high take up with the apps and their visitors are “very happy” with them.

Finally, we asked Delphine for her thoughts on temporary, pop up stores in her center. She sees this as an opportunity, as they have always been “focused on very high retention rates” and it is sometimes necessary to change the offers to keep things fresh for their visitors. In this way, pop ups let retailers test the market while the center can freshen up their offers at the same time.

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