According to the South African Council of Shopping Centres, shoppers are going to be timid to venture out once the lockdown is fully lifted, which emphasises the importance of evolution in business: adaptation to the needs of the customers.
Other than if it had to blow up, the worst thing that could happen to a shopping centre is a forced closure. This is made even more terrifying when you aren’t sure how long your automated sliding doors might stay closed for. We have seen first-hand how quickly a simple, invisible biological agent can wreak havoc on the world and all the systems that make it go around.
There is no doubt, once the lockdown dust has settled, that all varieties of retail outlets will have to prepare themselves better for these sorts of unforeseen closures. However, the first priority should be attracting customers back into malls and shopping centres. There are four core areas shopping centres should focus on when developing a post-lockdown comeback strategy:
1. Proactively prioritise sanitation checklists for both retailers and shopping centres
Ensure their areas are kept sanitised and safe for shoppers to go about their retail activities during the loosening of lockdown restrictions. Many of these required actions can be applied as general ‘best practice’ in the post-lockdown world. With the threat of invisible contagions now realised, mall visitors of tomorrow will want to know that their health and wellbeing is being prioritised. These are a few measures malls could use to keep sanitation and cleanliness a top priority after a lockdown:
Entrances and exits
• Use open-door policies where possible to reduce contact through touching door handles. • Install complimentary contactless hand sanitising stations at entrances and exits.
Public indoor areas
• Sanitise all mall furniture along corridors and in rest areas.
• Have dedicated food court cleaners to sanitise tables and chairs after each use.
• Replace communal condiments with pre-packed alternatives.
• Improve airflow and air filtration in each cinema.
2. Incentivise shoppers
While the rest of the world was still under tight lockdown, China was opening up their malls and retail stores after months under quarantine. The world’s second-largest economy took an unprecedented knock in the first two months of 2020, and placed heavy focus on re-stimulating domestic consumer spending. For some big brands, like Apple, attracting shoppers was no problem at all. Customers stood in queues by their hundreds outside Apple stores across China, eager to satisfy their long-quelled retail fever. To encourage spending in other markets, some shopping malls and retailers have embarked on promotions that offer large re-opening discounts, with some even giving out free gifts to customers as they approach the shopping centre.
3. Offer experiences
The retail industry has changed for good, and all the thought-leaders who spoke about the urgent need for improved, modernised experiential retail are all saying ‘I told you so.’ Also of this opinion is Professor of Marketing at the University of Maryland, Jie Zhang. He believes people coming out of a lockdown will want to compensate for all they had missed, but won’t want to risk entering an enclosed mall unless offered security and a unique experience.
‘To attract consumers back, shopping malls will need to beef up their entertainment offerings, their recreational offerings, and their experiential-based shopping offerings,’ said Zhang. Zhang is of the opinion that malls should consider modernising amenities, embracing the digital/real-world merger in-store, attracting higher-end restaurants, and aim to offer patrons of all ages unique experiences they won’t find elsewhere or on the internet.
4. Learn from the past
The Financial Crisis of 2008 battered global retail in a way the world had never seen before. Shopping centres were facing a similar crisis, where cash-strapped consumers were becoming reluctant to splurge what few peanuts they had managed to save before the rolling job cuts and retrenchments. In a 2008 ABC News article, Craig Johnson, CEO of retail consulting firm Customer Growth Partners, shared that a post-crisis comeback should revolve around evolution alongside the consumer.
‘It’s essential for mall owners to continuously renew (and) reinvent themselves to maintain excitement and newness for customers, and to reflect how consumers like to shop today and what their needs are,’ said Johnson. We forget that we’ve faced adversity throughout human history and have always adapted to thrive in our new environment. If we look back, and study how shopping centres were able to bounce back after crises that came before, we might just find the secret formula to attract shoppers effectively back to malls across the nation.