Ratina looked beyond COVID-19 – the shopping centre became a family travel destination
Rather than be discouraged by the coronavirus pandemic, the Ratina shopping centre in Tampere continued to develop its facilities and services – and it has paid off. The boom in domestic tourism has made the shopping centre a travel destination that is attracting people from all over Finland.
Shopping Centre Manager Mervi Ahola says Ratina had a record-breaking start to 2020.
“The shopping centre has grown in popularity during its two years of operations. The growth in sales and customer volumes was particularly strong in early 2020.
Then came the coronavirus. The once busy corridors of Ratina and other shopping centres became empty almost overnight. Restaurants and cafés were forced to close their doors.
The uncertain situation called for faith in the future
Instead of being unnerved by the situation, Ratina decided to look ahead with confidence.
“We further strengthened our commitment to investing in the future and decided to continue the major renewal project we are working on. Our goal is to make Ratina an even more attractive destination for customers once we get past the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ahola says.
The renewal project of Ratina’s premises continued as planned. Although the shopping centre was much quieter due to COVID-19, it progressed according to schedule and with no disruption to the customers.
Our goal is to make Ratina an even more attractive destination for customers once we get past the COVID-19 pandemic.
The shopping centre decided to keep the customer communications focus on the positive things that were being done. The idea was to assure customers and tenants that the COVID-19 crisis was only a temporary and exceptional situation.
New brands and new forms of co-operation
The results of the renewal efforts began to show during the spring and summer. Mid-July saw the completion of Riemu, a great new outdoor playground in Ratina Square. The Periscope restaurant also invested in the summer season and expanded its rooftop terrace. This faith in the future was also conveyed to customers, and many new brands showed interest in Ratina.
“We expected the COVID-19 situation to lead to growth in domestic tourism, so we decided to engage in new forms of co-operation with local hotels by having Ratina’s shops offer special promotions to their customers,” Ahola explains.
Customers returned and tourists discovered Ratina
Now, more than six months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is evident that the investments have paid off. Ahola says a significant turnaround was seen right at the beginning of the summer when the restrictions on movement were lifted. July was a month of genuine success for the shopping centre, with growth achieved in terms of sales as well as visitor volumes.
“It was incredible how quickly customers came back. And it wasn’t just our old customers – tourists also found their way to Ratina,” Ahola says happily.
Interior design and specialty shops have been particularly popular due to people spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Shopping Centre Manager says that visitors have been especially excited about the new playground outside Ratina. Periscope’s expanded rooftop terrace has also proved to be a success.
“The main reason people visit us is our diverse selection of shops. Interior design and specialty shops have been particularly popular due to people spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and our new brands have also attracted customers to Ratina. Examples of Ratina’s new tenants this year include Musti ja Mirri, JYSK and Lasten Into Second Hand & Shop,” Ahola says.
The selection of shops will be further expanded in November when the toy shop XS Lelut, Aava Medical Centre and the Pikkujätti children and young people’s clinic open their doors at Ratina.
Community and safety as competitive advantages
According to Ahola, the growth in visitor volumes after the COVID-19 spring proves that people want to feel they are part of a community and they need human interaction. Shopping centres provide diverse opportunities for spending time together, which explains their recent growth in popularity.
“We also saw growth in our customer loyalty programme, with 9,000 new members joining during the summer and 20,000 during the whole year,” Ahola notes.
Ahola believes that the exceptional circumstances have also attracted people to shopping centres for other reasons. One key factor is the opportunity to run errands safely and quickly when necessary.
“Ratina, for example, is very convenient to visit. We have plenty of space in our indoor car park and the members of our customer loyalty programme get one hour of free parking. Of course, we also have a bus stop right outside our main entrance. Our high level of hygiene and wide corridors also provide a new kind of added value for customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ready for changes
Ratina is well-prepared for a potential second wave of the coronavirus. Operating models are already in place in case new restrictions on movement are introduced by the authorities.
“Our shops have effective and proven operating models for serving their customers in exceptional circumstances. Home deliveries, private shopping services and other alternative shopping opportunities were very popular last spring, and they can be rolled out again quickly if necessary,” Ahola explains.
Nevertheless, Ratina wants to set its sights beyond the pandemic.
“We are developing Ratina into an increasingly diverse shopping centre and making it a travel destination that is worth visiting, even from other parts of the country.”