Interview with Otto Ambagtsheer

Otto Ambagtsheer, Chief Operating Officer at VIA Outlets talks to A1 Retail about why Outlets are thriving.


How has the outlet sector performed in the past? What do you expect in the near future?

For the last few years, the outlet sector has continued to perform strongly despite the difficult conditions of the wider retail sector. Today, it is one of the few segments that is resilient against market turbulence. Our own end-of-year results strongly confirm this: in 2018, we increased brand sales to 1.07 billion euros (+9.3%) and attracted over 30 million customers over the year, while opening 139 new stores across our portfolio.

We expect the outlet market to continue growing as more brands acknowledge outlets as a crucial sales channel and more customers discover the benefits and joys of outlet shopping. Our focus for the year ahead will be to continue delivering the best experience for guests and brand partners alike – for example by continuing to remodel further centres in our portfolio.

What significant causes do you see behind the performance of this sector?

Firstly, the relationship between brands and outlets has transformed considerably: while previously, outlets have mainly been a way for retailers to offload unsold stock, brands now see outlets as opportunities to reach new market segments and build relationships with new consumers to boost sales and brand awareness. 

Secondly, retailers are attracted by high performance figures – both in weak and strong wider economic conditions. In periods of weaker growth, customers tend to become more value-conscious and thereby drawn to the very core concept of an outlet centre, whereas they value the experience of outlet shopping during economic upturns.

What strategies do you see that are predominantly being used to transform the shopping experiences for customers in the outlet centres?

The key is acknowledging that a visit to an outlet centre comprises much more than a shopping spree: there is value in the quality of experiences offered to the customers. This means that multiple needs and amenities must be offered in one place at one time to maximise the incentives of visiting the centre. This can range from extensive food and beverage options and leisure areas for children, to an aesthetic that encourages customers to continue exploring the extensive retail offering of the outlet centre.

Customers increasingly want more and more proactivity, which includes personalised interactions, multiple services throughout the centres they visit, and seamless connectivity. We work extensively to make our centres go-to destinations for domestic and overseas guests. This does not only include offering great prices, but also enhancing the guest experience with art, architecture and history. We want our customers to be able to spend time, shop, stroll, enjoy a day out with friends and discover new brands, all in the same place.

What unique activities have VIA Outlets been engaging in to secure its position within the industry?

We have been accelerating the expansion and remodelling of our portfolio to make sure that our centres are drivers of experience. By offering added-value services such as tax refund facilities for our overseas guests, an innovative loyalty programme (Fashion Club) and personal shopping lounges for VIP guests, we elevate comfort, leisure, and services to deliver a personalised and tailored experience.

We’ve also added a twist to the contemporary vision of an outlet centre. We stay one step ahead by running pop-up stores which help to attract new and old customers, and offer an opportunity to build new relationships with retailers and customers alike while allowing customers to experience something new each visit.

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