To keep online threats at bay shopping centres must get onboard with better data.

March 21, 2019 | Gerry Mezzina

During one of the traditionally busiest periods for shopping centres, customers voted with their feet and moved their browsing online.

With ever increasing competition from online spending (forecast to more than double to 12% of all retail sales by 2020) and reduced disposable income, the unprecedented decline in foot traffic in December was reasonably expected.  

While reading the source article in the Australian Financial Review, I couldn’t help question if this figure alone depicts an accurate story.

What if the traffic was down, but precincts strive to delight the most loyal shopping centre customers, who still actively enjoy the physical experience of shopping?

Shopping Centres more than ever need to create spaces that people feel connected to and all centres are looking for ways to enhance customer experience, and understanding your customers is the best way to guide this.

We know what isn’t helping – traffic counters and most customer data. They often give little or no deep insight into the people visiting, or are captured and recorded in separate systems. A visit is indeed a data point, but without context of that visit, and viewing inline with other data, offers minimal value.

Social media is another intelligence to access, but to accessing usable data can take up valuable time that could be better utilised elsewhere. And as we know, likes are not customers.

Many recent reports promote the doom, gloom and imminent death of bricks and mortar retail, but realistically all the news isn’t that bad.

As reported in SCN recently, the 2019 Retail Outlook breakfast indicated customers, data and innovation were key investment areas for Shopping Centres. Quantium’s Tim Trumper commented how “data and knowing your customers should be the core to any company.”

In a recent Australian Financial Review article, ShopperTrak’s Adam Ioakim reinforces this point, commenting that “The retailers that are using the data to drive change are the ones that will succeed.”

Many retailers have access to specific customer data and purchasing habits, but Shopping Centres traditionally do not – relying on sales reports from their tenants, or email marketing lists generated from competitions or in-centre activations. Retailers hold the rich customer data and shopping centres are often at the mercy of their retailers to gain actionable intelligence.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Shopping centres have a captive market, who with the right approach, are ready to be marketed to.

Landlords must improve their understanding of their centres’ customers.

Traditionally, a shopping centre’s marketing budget has been designed and had its success measured on driving foot-traffic and sales and we deduct a good customer experience is tantamount to high sales and traffic. But it’s often an assumption, and we don’t always know which element drives the others.

When it boils down to it, sales is the ultimate KPI – a lot of traffic and customers loving the centre experience without parting with their hard-earned will lead to hard years ahead.

As most Shopping Centres are in budget planning phase for the next financial year, two questions should be asked about the marketing strategy:

“Will we continue to run the similar activations, sales drivers, and seasonal campaigns and expect different sales results”?

And following from Tim Trumper’s comment: “Is data and knowing your customers the core of your proposed marketing plan”?

Activations drive temporary foot traffic, but create major difficulties in tracking ROI.

Does an event attracting hundreds of kids create long term loyalty and diverse experiences, or drive loyal customers away from the retailers in proximity? We know retailers adjacent to these activations have widely differing sales results.

Do tactical and seasonal sales drivers really influence behaviour, or simply reward customers who planned to shop anyway?

Investing in ongoing digital initiatives helps capture customer data, and better data provides insights into questions such as these.

Further, many events and activations are a ‘soft-sell’.

The [insert latest kids character/stylist/artist] event aims to drive footfall, but rarely has a direct sales ‘ask’ attached (idea: what if you offered front row seats to customers who spent over $100 in the weekend before the event)?

Physical marketing and events will always be relevant, but they should be aligned to direct sales outcomes in the interests of all stakeholders – customers, retailers and centres alike.  

To complement physical marketing, investing in creating loyalty and a true digital position for your shopping centre brand is critical to address the erosion of customers online.

In a previous article, I wrote: “To do this, you will need specific customer data – spending habits, frequency, biographical information, and behaviour in the centre. And the best way to obtain this data is to provide compelling reasons for your customers to ‘opt-in’, and incentivise the behaviour you wish to reinforce”.

A strong digital loyalty program helps close the gap between e-commerce and bricks and mortar retailing, and provides insights about your specific customers, empowering you to level the playing field.

The power of e-commerce originates from every transaction influencing the next. Every customer interaction customises their next experience and in turn influences consumer behaviour. Whether via in-cart upsell/cross-sell or by driving future purchases, technology fills the many voids otherwise created by lack of timely knowledge or good old-fashioned human limitations.

Knowing what customers respond to, what they buy, and continuously personalising marketing using this data, online retailers unashamedly have one focus. Sell more product to their customers.

By imitating the competitive online approach, shopping centres can create their own database of loyal customers, personalise marketing for customer segments, and drive them in store with the sole intention to engage and spend.

Designing a Shopping Centre Specific Loyalty Program.

Ultimately customers must see enough value to remain engaged, and will (rightly) expect to be served content relevant to them.

Loyalty programs take planning and effort to establish. Some shopping centres find this challenging due to the complexities of centre-retailer relationships, limited access to retailer POS integration and the ongoing commitment to drive membership.

Unlike a seasonal event shopping centre loyalty relies on solid relationships between the marketing teams and retailers, and retail head offices!

A successful program will engage customers wherever they interact with your shopping centre, from your website, social media channels, email marketing, smartphone app, and while they visit the precinct. It should provide all tools needed to acquire and retain customers, and collate all digital data points into one view. Critically, it should enable centres to deliver a consistent message to all marketing channels.

As with any activation, engaging tenants and working together is key to success..

When retailers understand the transparency and results of digital campaigns, they are better informed and more motivated to offer compelling offers and add value to the shopping centre loyalty program.

Centres should have a target of acquiring a customer database through all channels, and KPIs for the volume of sales driven through the loyalty program. They should have access to reporting in real time and share these with retailers.

Finally, a loyalty program gives permission to promote sales, unashamedly.

If done correctly, customers who join the loyalty program have explicitly opted-in. They are in the buying frame, having requested to be notified of offers, deals, value adds and more that are all aligned to spending money.

With targeted and personalised sales promotions centres can reach customers wherever they are, allow them to reserve an offer, and drive them in centre to collect.

As an understanding of loyal customers is developed centres are in the best position to keep shoppers loyal to bricks and mortar, support their tenants by influencing sales and continue to drive the value of their properties.

So the questions remain, as you plan the next 12-36 months of your promotion schedules:

Will same activations, sales drivers, and seasonal campaigns deliver improved results? More importantly, is data and knowing your customers at the core of your proposed marketing plan and at the core of your business?

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Interested in loyalty programs and software designed only for shopping centres?

Norbit is a customer-focused loyalty solution developed solely for shopping centres. We have clients in Australia, Asia, Europe, and South Africa and work with established landlords to drive better customer data.

We’d be happy to arrange a meeting to discuss how you can implement a robust solution that works into your centre marketing budget and have you learning more about your customers in a matter of weeks. Contact us on +61 7 3358 5019, or at info@norbit.com.au

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