Analysing and Understanding Shopping Centres

One of the good things about being a Professor of Retail Studies is that you get to meet interesting people with interesting ideas.  Over the last year or so I have been involved on some executive education with Bayfield Training and learned about the development of their ‘Retail Quilts’.

These Retail Quilts have now come to fruition, I have thus invited Natalie Bayfield to explain the concept and the benefits of this development.  If you are interested in these, then the contact details for Natalie and Bayfield are at the end of this post.

Over to Natalie:

Bayfield Retail Quilts: A tool to help understand shopping centre success.

Every so often when we’re creating training material we come up with something really exciting. At Bayfield Training our job is to make complex subjects accessible and we use a number of techniques to achieve this: gamification, modelling, repetition methods, case studies and visualisations.

Shopping centre investment as a subject has been one of our biggest challenges yet. The asset is incredibly complex. We can invite an expert on different aspects of the same case study mall and be treated to erudite presentations that have more in common with the pedagogy of architecture, customer service, retailing, facilities, marketing or service charge than they might do with the case study mall itself. Our challenge was to develop a regular format for case study malls. To do this we needed to understand the common denominators of a mall and what it is that makes each mall unique?

In 2013, designing our first shopping centre investment course, we hit upon the idea of squarified tree maps. We had tried fitting the layouts of different shopping centres each on an A4 page. Very few, if any of them, fit. Many had more than one level, compounding the problem. And where we did get them onto one page we found they didn’t tell us very much. Quite simply they contained too much information to be useful.


Figure 1: Mall Layout, Gray’s Shopping Centre, Thurrock


What if we removed the layout altogether and simplified the collection of retail units into a quilt of relative unit sizes? We had seen tree maps, which sort variables into relative squares, used in other areas but given this was before Excel 2016 had incorporated tree maps as a feature, we asked one of our designers Taffy @_itsTaffy to find a program to make them. Having applied tree maps to shopping centres we named them Bayfield Retail QuiltsTM. We included them in our course and as delighted as we were at the simplification they offered, we hadn’t yet realised their full potential. We have since updated both the program and the technique.


Figure 2: Bayfield Retail Quilt, The Oracle Shopping Centre, Reading


So what are they? Retail Quilts are essentially a pie chart but divided into relative size squares rather than variously sized slices of a pie. Why a Retail Quilt rather than a pie chart? It’s simple, squares look much more like shop units than pie slices do, and therefore for the specific context of shopping centres, Retail Quilts are easier to interpret.

Take the Oracle Shopping Centre, in Reading, above. It is typical of most, but not all, shopping centres i.e. Department Stores in the top left are the dominant category with Fashion and Accessories coming in a close second. The Oracle is already well adapted to the current Retailtainment trend, with a more than most offering of F&B and accompanied by a large Vue Cinema. Vacancy is a little higher than we would like, until you look more closely and realise a third will be occupied again soon. Finally, a nice variety of jewellery, shoes, services and newsagents are found among the smaller shops in the bottom right.

There is no new data here. It is the presentation of the data that speeds up comprehension and pattern spotting. Take the Gray’s Centre in Thurrock. How different is the offering to the Oracle?


Figure 3: Bayfield Retail quilt: Gray’s Shopping Centre, Thurrock

The Retail Quilt for the Gray’s Shopping Centre tells you very quickly that Household, Kids & Charity is by far the dominant category, not Department Stores, although Fashion & Accessories holds its position in second place. A healthy presence of F&B is nonetheless comprised of fast food outlets compared to the Oracle’s fancier brands. Other stores include supermarkets and retail services which are less prevalent in the Oracle.

The Retail Quilt helps you identify stores much better than the data alone or by trying to identify and assemble the tenants from the mall layout in your head. The Gray’s Centre clearly attempts to serve a very different demographic to the Oracle.

How about the question: is Hollister in every shopping centre in the UK? You don’t have to know much about Hollister to make a beeline for the middle of the green Fashion & Accessories category in each Retail Quilt. Searching for a Hollister in a Mall Layout is obviously a lot more difficult.


Figure 4: Raw data, Shopping Centre layout or Bayfield Retail Quilt?


Of course you could simply query the raw data, but the query provides zero context. A simple query limits the ability to hypothesise and spot patterns, something the brain does much better visually.

So, is there a Hollister in the Oracle or the Gray’s centre? Why is Hollister in one mall and not the other? Which presentation of data helps most in getting an answer but also more interestingly contextualising the answer?  You might also like to think about how a book of quilts could help analyse, define and discuss value across shopping centres.  Obviously this is just scratching the surface of their potential, and if you want to learn more then please get in touch.

About Natalie and Bayfield

Natalie Bayfield is Chairwoman of Bayfield Training and a lecturer in Real Estate Finance at the University of Cambridge. For a sample publication of the Retail Quilts or to enrol on one of their courses visit the Bayfield Training website at

You can also follow Natalie on twitter @NatalieBayfield

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.
This entry was posted in Bayfield, Brands, Data, Department Stores, Food Court, Inter-depenendencies, Property, Relationships, Retail Quilts, Retailers, Shopping Centres and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Analysing and Understanding Shopping Centres

  1. Gordon Bell says:

    Excellent work, I got the content in about 30seconds, all the best things are very simple.
    Gordon Bell, Chairman, The Retailer Group.

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