I recently listened in on a meeting of Econsultancy’s Digital Advisory Board – attended by an invite-only group of C-Suite marketers.
As you might expect from the group (which included people from a number of different industries) – the subject matter was varied. However, one thing that particularly stood out to me was the topic of consumer loyalty.
More specifically, how retailers are struggling to strike the right balance between online and offline channels.
One member prompted the question: Are high street loyalty programs pointless compared to offerings like Amazon Prime – whereby unlimited free content keeps consumers hooked? How can high street or bricks-and-mortar stores possibly compete?
On the flip side, when we’re constantly being told that consumers want experiential shopping experiences in physical environments, are we focusing too much online? It amounts to a lot of confusion, especially for multi-channel retailers.
So what about targeting consumers in shopping malls? After all, these environments act as a sort of middle-man, with the potential to help bridge the gap between brands and consumers, as well as the online and offline worlds. With this in mind, here’s a bit more on how they’re targeting today’s (increasingly digitally-focused) consumers.
Creating destination shopping
From children’s soft play areas to pop-up catwalks – shopping malls have always included more than just the retail stores themselves.
However, these services (not including mid-tier entertainment such as cinemas and bowling alleys) are generally geared around basic convenience or blatant PR as opposed to anything truly customer-centric. This appears to be changing, with shopping centres now focusing on how they can use the spaces between shops to create a truly immersive experience for customers, from beginning to end.
One way the likes of Westfield and Bluewater are achieving this is by strategically placing champagne bars in the middle of malls.
It’s not rocket science of course – giving people a reason to linger (and make them more relaxed) is bound to drive extra footfall to stores. But it’s not just a case of any old alcohol either. Interestingly, locations such as the Intu Victoria Centre in Nottingham UK have deliberately chosen prosecco bars instead of champagne, with the former drawing in a wider demographic and better aligning with high street retail brands. In contrast, you’ll find Searcy’s champagne in Westfield London, located opposite high-end brands like Jimmy Choo and Versace.
This shows that it’s not as simple as creating an immersive experience for the masses, but one that aligns with the specific commercial environment and target customer.
Meanwhile, shopping malls are striving to make leisure and entertainment the primary reason for people to visit – not just an added bonus. This is particularly the case in the US, where shopping malls are massively suffering due to the rise in the ecommerce market, with one in three reportedly set to close within the next decade.
With the aim of reclaiming the shopping mall as the heart of the community, many are combining fine dining, brand pop-ups, showrooms and even sporting activities to entice consumers. The Mall of America in Minnesota is a rather extreme example, but its aquarium and dinosaur walk museum demonstrates the true potential of destination shopping.
Utilising space and design
While there is a huge danger of over-generalising when it comes to gender, there’s no denying that men and women typically shop in different ways – meaning that they also want different things from physical retail environments.
According to BI Intelligence, 40% of men aged 18 to 34 would ‘ideally buy everything online’, while just 33% of women feel the same.
So, what actually drives men into malls?
Research suggests that most males are likely to use physical stores to seek out unique products that they can’t find online or, in the case of those at our Digital Advisory Board meeting, if they are accompanying friends or family members. Interestingly, one person cited the difference between a shopping mall that includes relaxation areas (including comfy sofas and water stations) in multiple areas – and one that didn’t. Naturally, they said, you’ll find a greater percentage of males using these areas, often waiting for others while they shop.
This is not a revelation, however it does demonstrate how shopping malls can effectively utilise space and design – even if it just means a comfier seat – to enhance the customer experience and increase the chances of return.
Many new malls are also being designed with the wider environment in mind, regardless of how urban it might be. Take Cabot Circus in Bristol UK, for instance, which was built with a huge shell-shaped glass roof to create the illusion of being in the open-air. Similarly, the Fornebu S mall in Oslo was voted the most sustainable shopping mall in the world for its green roof and bicycle park, which encourages consumers to cycle to and from.
Using technology to merge online and offline
Finally, it would be foolish to ignore the growing popularity of online shopping, specifically how consumers are using a combination of the two channels. Whether it’s showrooming (which means visiting stores to buy online later) or webrooming (the other way around) – retailers need to find a way to facilitate and enhance both experiences, instead of convincing customers that one is surperior.
One way is to increase the amount of technology in-stores, for example using a tablet to quickly search if a product is in stock. Or even just a slick buy-and-collect service to give consumers greater flexibility and freedom.
A few years ago, Kate Spade launched one of the first examples of integrated technology, installing touchscreen storefronts that allowed customers to purchase items based on real-life ‘window shopping’. Now with the introduction of VR and AR, high-tech stores and pop-ups like this are becoming even more innovative, meaning that customers are turning to physical retail for the sole purpose of discovering what brands are doing with it.
Essentially, whether it is a touchscreen or a prosecco bar, it’s all about giving consumers a greater value proposition. Not just in comparison to ecommerce – but to the standard shopping malls of the past.