It was the year 2017 when the “Retail Apocalypse” made headlines, sending retailers and shopping mall operators into a frantic panic. Two years after, the sinister doomsday keeps popping up in the press as a dark reminder of the sword hanging above businesses’ heads. The big question everyone seems to try to answer is “what to do to survive and –not only survive but thrive”?
Shopping Malls are at the center of this storm. They went from super popular teenage hangouts in the ’80s and ’90s (if you don’t know what we are talking about, watch Stranger Things,) to zombie spaces that fell prey to the times. The truth is that shopping malls have been subjected to extreme forces. The usual suspects are globalization, changing demographics, and technology. If we keep in mind that in the US alone, 23.5 square feet per inhabitant are dedicated to shopping centers, we can add to that list the saturation of the marketplace.
Despite the doom and gloom in the press and the external forces they’ve had to endure, shopping malls are experiencing a renaissance. Those who paid attention to what the community cared about are the ones that managed to evolve.
Understanding the consumer has been a critical element in this evolution. Yes, your mall can look like an amusement park or even taken off the pages of Architectural Digest, but if the bells and whistles are not connecting directly to your community’s needs, you’re missing the mark.
That’s where consumer research comes in. Malls that outperform the competition understand that they have to measure everything they can about their shoppers.
Westfield was one of the first large mall operators to invest massively in big data. In 2012, it set up Westfield Labs, an innovation lab that developed a comprehensive solution to track client traffic flow and purchases across all the retailers in its malls. However, measuring foot traffic and sales per square foot isn’t enough anymore. Today, as consumers no longer need to come to malls, shopping mall operators need to know as much about their shoppers as someone like Amazon knows about theirs.
Up until now, most consumer research for shopping malls has focused on measuring shopper’s behavior when customers are already inside the mall. The usual metrics like foot-traffic, choice of a shop by demographics, or even dollar value per square foot are all tied into existing customers.
But what happens with your non-shoppers? How about measuring what your competitors are doing or why consumers are choosing them over you? Those are all questions you should be asking when you conduct surveys. Getting the full picture can help you tweak your strategy to get your metrics in a consistent climb and – most importantly– you get to connect with the community you serve in more efficient and meaningful ways.
Consumer research needed a facelift to adapt to the new consumer’s reality: they are hyper-mobile, their attention spans are considerably lower than a decade ago, they are well informed, and they prefer experiences over “things.”
Traditional research methods VS hyper-targeting:
The old school of consumer research focuses on a few methods that don’t match today’s consumer behavior. Intercept interviews, cold-calling, and web panel surveys all fail to address one crucial point: No one has the time or the desire to answer a stranger’s questions or stop by an iPad to fill out a questionnaire –at least not without incentive. Personally, I cringe at the sight of a guy with a clipboard and a smile, trying to interview me while I’m going about my day. And the survey at the bottom of my receipt, I’ve never filled one of those – have you?
The second is human error. As intercept interviews depend on people to pre-qualify respondents, personal biases can get in the way of accurate results. Moreover, since participants are not randomly selected (e.g., not everyone goes to shopping malls or has access to them), the results cannot be generalized to larger populations.
Geotargeting, on the other hand, gives shopping malls the ability to run the same interception but without the intrusion. “Fencing” an area of interest allows mall operators to survey not only the people who walk into their location but also people who live, work or transit around it. More interestingly, it also gives businesses the capability to fence their competitor’s locations and run a competitive analysis using the insights that matter the most: those of the community you are trying to reach.
It’s a matter of time.
First, thank you for reading this far. Hopefully, it was worth your time, and we mean it. In this age of accelerated access to information and media bombardment, having the time to read something for personal or professional growth seems borderline impossible. That’s why “time” is another critical element of consumer research as no one ever really has enough of it to stop and answer questions. If you do, you’ll probably still try to move it along as fast as possible, which makes the results more questionable.
Targeting people where and when they are ready to answer a survey is crucial. Social networks are the perfect environment to do this. As users spend an average of 136 minutes per day “thumbing-up” through their feeds, these channels present a unique opportunity to “intercept” consumers during what they consider downtime. The good news is that this channel leverages Geotargeting to reach the right audience, so you kill two birds with one stone.
Finally, a question for you: would you rather know about the new coffee chain that’s opening in your city or the one opening around the corner? Consumers prefer to answer questions that are relevant to them and impact their daily lives. If they see an opportunity to influence or shape their community in a way that answers their specific needs, they will go for it. It seems obvious, but this is often overlooked: the best incentive you can give to someone to answer a survey is the possibility of their voice being heard.
As shopping malls become more data-driven and evolve into a better, stronger version of themselves, their knowledge of their consumers needs to evolve to reflect changes in needs, attitudes, and habits – and consumer research is the stepping stone to achieve that goal. By following this approach, retail and shopping mall operators future-proof their properties, drive growth and make them healthier and more profitable.