The Bicester Village Shopping Collection comprises 11 destinations across Western Europe and China: London, Paris, Shanghai, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid, Brussels, Antwerp, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Munich, Frankfurt, and Suzhou.
The Collection, by Value Retail, is unique in its unprecedented brand mix, beautiful settings, cultural richness, remarkable service and savings on the recommended retail price of up to 60 per cent. Each Village plays host to the world’s most revered fashion and lifestyle boutiques, and each one offers extraordinary experiences and hospitality for the world’s most discerning guests.
We spoke to chief merchant and chairperson Desiree Bollier of The Bicester Village Shopping Collection, for more insight into luxury retail and staying at the top of the business.
“In many instances, our villages are the first point of contact for customers of certain brands – we draw customers from our villages to the full price stores. Today customer acquisition is a very expensive exercise. In a noisy marketplace where you are bombarded by online, above the line, below the line, offline messages and grassroot marketing, everyone is going after your wallet. I don’t want your wallet, I want your heart. I want you to love the place, enjoy it, bring your friends and family and have fun. At the end of it, you will always end up shopping. When you are in a safe, qualitative and entertaining environment, you love to spoil yourself - and this is how I make sure our teams think and not the reverse,” she says.
“Shopping, if it’s transactional, Amazon and Alibaba have already won the war. However, if you’re human, you want experiences, you want to have fun, you want to meet them somewhere. We are going to be the place where you’re going to meet them.
“There is nothing cheap about our villages outside of just the prices. I prefer to talk about the villages as destinations in their own right. The average dwell time there is five hours. We are so time poor today, and guests are giving us five hours – now that’s an honour.”
Sales across the Western European villages this year, from January to February, demonstrate double-digit growth year-on-year from Middle Eastern guests, and these include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Egypt. Saudi Arabia showed more than 50 per cent growth.
“The average spend of the Gulf market is two times more than the Chinese customer, so obviously this is an important market for us. We just had a ladies lunch and each one of these HNWI ladies had been to at least two or three of the villages. Let me make it clear that none of these ladies need to shop in any discount places and yet they frequent our villages.
“None of the ladies talked about the prices - all they talked about was what services they would like to see added – how frequent should hands-free shopping be and the need to have more halal restaurants. These guests who are used to beyond indulgence and uber levels of service, consider our villages as a great day out, taking their kids and having fun with girlfriends.”
Another feedback has been that more and more people are heading out to shop without their wallets – without cash and cards. “We are definitely piloting digital wallets in all our villages. I want to make sure that digital wallets are an accepted mode of payment with our brands. Someone our brands are not ready to have this conversation it is our job to push these brands to come onboard the digital wallet as this is one key requirement of our guests.”
While looking into the future, Bicester Village (the brand’s flagship village located just outside of Oxford) celebrates 25 years next year. “Watch this space – the celebrations will be epic. Meanwhile, we are already expanding our footprint in China and certainly expanding in New York.”
“We don’t think of ourselves as a shopping mall, I don’t hire anyone who comes to work for a shopping mall. We are all about unique destinations with melting pots of fine dining, we are an outdoor street oasis with all your senses being engaged.”
A lot of investment goes into the villages. “We invest millions in our villages and it’s good for business. Look at what happened to departments stores – they got greedy - they looked at the bottom lines and forgot their customers.
“The bar of customer expectations keeps on rising, if you don’t go up with it, you become irrelevant.
“If you sleep at the wheel, you will give your business to someone else,” says Bollier. And that’s a lesson for all of us too.
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