Shopping centres are Britain's new community centres as well as being consumer outlets, rock star Toyah Willcox told retail bosses at a Birmingham conference yesterday.
The Kings Heath-born star, whose multi-platinum albums made her an eighties idol, was the celebrity speaker at a three-day event for British shopping centre managers at the ICC.
Toyah said she always ended up in a shopping centre when she was on tour overseas.
And the 46-year-old graduate of the Old Rep's Theatre School told delegates of Rhythm in Retail that the Bullring was her favourite spot to spend cash.
"Shopping centres are not just places to shop. They are now places where people meet, make friends and learn. They also have become a shelter for those that need it," she said.
"They are the new community centres and long may that continue."
Her comments were echoed by some of the conference's speakers, including Chris Daffy, a sales, marketing and management expert and the non-executive director of travel company WorldChoice.
Mr Daffy advised managers to create an "experience" for a shopper with memorable surprises and "added extras".
He said: "Our guests are now looking for a significant improvement in their retail experience. It's all about creating the right customer experience.
"The little added extras make the difference when it comes to customer service."
Many of the top names in retail fear customers will increasingly shop on the internet.
But Helen Dickinson, a KPMG accountant who specialises in the retail sector, said internet sales accounted for just three per cent of the £260 billion spent in Britain last year.
She said: "One in four of us shops online. This is three per cent of the overall consumer spend. I see that online percentage doubling, not next year or the year after, but more like in the next five years."
Michael Green, the chief executive of the British Council of Shopping Centres, said the way to counterbalance internet sales was with better customer service.
He said: "Internet shopping is something we have to be aware of. We can offset its success with better customer service. We can draw people in with personal contact that they can't get when they shop on the internet. We are going towards a customer-friendly environment."
He predicted that by 2020 Britain's shopping centres would have more open spaces, more children's entertainment and comfy sofas and televisions for those who did not enjoy shopping.
"Ten years ago shopping centre managers were janitors. Now they are business managers responsible for millions of assets, their job has got a lot lot harder," added Mr Green.
But Toyah was given the final word.
"To see how far shopping centres have come just think back to the 1970s. We struggled to find a shop where you could buy vegetarian food and underwear that didn't resemble a chastity belt," she said.