Marketing Shopping Centres

Shopping for tourists

Isn’t it time we accepted the fact that many of our shopping centres are also our most popular tourist attractions?   From Westfield Stratford to the local precinct they are by far the main reason for day trips and a major motivation for short breaks and longer holidays.

Currently one third of tourism spending is on retail items and unsurprisingly many high street, out-of-town and designer outlet shopping centres have developed marketing strategies to attract high spending tourists. These are not ‘click and collect’ customers, they are visitors wanting both entertainment and goods to purchase. Whether you hate the term or not shopping centres are part of the ‘experience economy’ and need to be sold as such to be competitive.

It’s show time

The long predicted demise of the major department store has not happened for the very reason the best of these offer a unique experience, part retail and part attraction. If you want to target high spending tourists from, say, the soon-to-be fast-tracked visa-enabled China market consider how far your offer goes to satisfy what they’re looking for. Think high end local heritage, high value luxury goods and great customer service. Remember, tourists can can skip the shops and choose to buy online direct or through Amazon and Ebay. Offer a retail experience that enhances their primary motivators for travel and you’ll drive significant extra revenue.

The law of attraction

People on holiday are less likely to shop online so their relative importance is increasing. This ‘tourist’ contribution to till receipts remains below the radar for many centres and is yet to be highlighted by industry bodies or ‘advisors’ such as Mary Portas. With domestic retail remaining subdued, it is more critical than ever that shopping centre marketers acknowledge and aggressively target this audience.

You can’t necessarily open a new ride or blockbuster exhibition every year to refresh your centre but there’s plenty more you can do than simply running endless sales or leasing yet more space to pound stores. Think like an attraction marketer and exploit your potential for building audiences using great themed events, imaginative in-centre entertainment, parades, fashion shows, fresh food markets, celebrity signings, social media, volunteer centre ‘ambassadors’ and clever PR. Customers will thank you. So will your bank manager.

Top ten must-do’s when marketing shopping centres:

• Be distinctive and draw upon your location’s most positive assets and broader tourism appeal
• Sort out who your core customers are and don’t try to be all things to all people
• Develop branding & communications in line with the benefits sought by your core customers
• Deliver for your retailers an agreed timed, costed annual marketing plan & events programme
• Integrate your marketing and PR activity with the seasonal campaigns of your main retailers
• Maximise the value of wider destination marketing via active engagement with your local DMO*
• Run medium to heavy-weight  advertising campaigns in advance of  your key sales weeks targeting your natural drive time catchment area
• Build a segmented database of core customers enabling personalised communication
• Track customer behavior, satisfaction and spending patterns to guide operational development
• Establish key performance indicators to measure marketing effectiveness and ROI**

Ten top tips for attracting more customers to shopping centres:

• Offer free wifi & use  QR codes on centre posters, banners, store guides and signage to flag up special offers, news and navigation
• Increase coach and group business by packaging and promoting day trips with local attractions
• Offer free meals and discounts to business generating coach drivers and group organisers
• Stage seasonal public ‘X Factor’-style auditions to build a roster of good quality buskers and generate local PR
• Set up and consult regularly with different small groups of 5-6 customers each who represent your core visitor segments
• Don’t promote “car free” days – instead lobby local politicians to improve parking facilities and car access
• Expand the Centre’s customer database on the back of advertising call-to-actions and media competitions
• Limit the content in your email and mobile communications to one primary and three secondary messages
• Encourage the sale of distinctive local products, particularly arts & crafts and food and drink
• Offer space to local arts organisations in return for high quality entertainment and the decoration of unlet retail units