Using consumer insights to market shopping centres

By Emily Anderson

Think back to the shopping centres you experienced as a kid. Chances are those centres look much different today. Storefronts have changed, the video arcades have vanished, and clean, bright modern walkways have replaced the dark earth-tone hallways. Today, stores are no longer viewed simply as places to sell things. Instead these spaces are being re-imagined to create richer experiences that will inspire advocates who are willing to share their experience and connection to the brand on their smartphones.

This cycle of transformative change is nothing new. But the challenge has always been how to adapt these spaces to keep them relevant amid the ever-evolving shopping habits and consumer expectations.

Mall management companies, like Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services (CWAS), are innovating to develop new ways of attracting consumers through food, entertainment and events to their properties. But these endeavours can be costly and involve heightened risk.

Adding to the challenge, malls and management companies often lack actionable data to help them understand what their tenants’ customers are looking for and to spot growth opportunities. CWAS wanted to base its investment decisions on the best information possible to ensure it was adding elements to its centres that would attract the most desirable shoppers within their trade areas.

Like most shopping centre operators, CWAS has a customer database it derives insights from, including tenant sales data and shopper postal codes. But it relies heavily on third-party data to provide a holistic view of the opportunities in the local markets. By turning to Environics Analytics, the company sought to understand not only who lived nearby, but who the actual shoppers were and which products and services they tend to purchase so its properties could prioritize their investments to increase market share. The goal was to make sure the centres had the right assortment of store brands and events to attract visitors, as well as find the most effective media to market to them.

“We worked with Environics Analytics to answer an array of questions, but primarily we wanted to understand who are our shoppers and, just as important, who are not our shoppers and why,” said Margaret Cooper, a national marketing consultant who works closely with the centres. “The more we understand about them, the more targeted and strategic we can be.”

Who shops where?
The project relied on several data sources from Environics Analytics, as well as some primary research by our sister company Environics Research. To help the properties better understand the shopping habits of the centres’ visitors, including where they were before their visits and where they went once they left, Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services used mobile data to study consumer behaviour. By geo-fencing its properties, it was able to collect anonymized, permission-based location data from smartphones to understand where visitors were and when. The insights from these data helped the marketing and management teams sharpen their view of their trade areas and observe how the local competition affected their properties.

From a primary research standpoint, CWAS conducted an online shopper survey for each centre, which helped the marketing teams get direct feedback from several hundred shoppers on the types of retailers they wanted to see, what improvements would interest them and what attracted them to a particular mall versus a competitor.

For all of the data the CWAS properties had, it would not have had the impact it did without the PRIZM segmentation system. PRIZM linked all of these disparate data sources together to help understand who was shopping at the properties versus their competitors, so that the company could pinpoint its growth opportunities.

Developing compelling experiences
The research helped each CWAS property learn the types of shoppers it needed to attract in order to boost sales, which in turn would enable them to design programmes to engage those target audiences. For instance, at Lansdowne Place in Peterborough, Ont., it discovered that its current shoppers were young and aspirational.

Further analysis revealed that the desired family segment was more likely to shop at Lansdowne Place if the property was more family oriented and emphasized its connection to the local community. Based on these insights, the marketing director for the mall convinced a local reptile zoo to set up a temporary exhibit of their life-size animatronic dinosaurs in the shopping centre. The display was a huge success. Lansdowne Place saw an increase in mall traffic, which resulted in a corresponding boost in sales from their target audience.

“As retail experts, we are all trying to find what motivates our customers to go to a shopping centre versus maybe an outlet mall to take on a different experience,” said Helen Edwards, marketing director with CWAS.

Finding better tenants, faster
Shopping centres devote considerable resources to attract the right tenants, which has become a substantial challenge in today’s market. It’s not uncommon for management companies like Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services to prepare several pitch packages before finding the right tenant for a property. Each tenant reviews many properties before selecting the one that’s the best fit for their brand, growth strategy and business model.

The detailed consumer insights CWAS was able to gain from this initiative has allowed it to streamline its pitch process to identify better tenant matches and secure lease agreements with prospective tenants more efficiently. As Cooper explains, now when the company pitches a tenant, it can bring in data that shows the types of consumers the tenant can expect at the selected centre and what those consumers tend to buy.

This data helps the CWAS properties focus on the opportunities they know will be mutually beneficial. In one instance, the leasing team opted not to offer a toy retailer a vacant anchor space because the data indicated that their priority shoppers in that market had older children who enjoyed outdoor activities as a family. As a result, the centre secured a new tenant MEC—Mountain Equipment Co-op—that is set to open in spring 2020.

This sort of evidence-based decision-making not only helps find a tenant that will thrive in the centre over time, it also helps the centre attract more traffic to the property, which ultimately benefits all tenants.

Unlocking new marketing channels
When you manage shopping centres that spend millions of dollars a year promoting experiences and their tenants, it is critical to know if those programmes are reaching the desired shoppers. One essential part of the research focused on which media would allow the centres to find and engage hard-to-reach consumers.

Using PRIZM and Opticks Vividata, CWAS was able to understand the consumer media preferences of its visitors, in addition to other critical attributes like their attitudes and lifestyles. Based on the insights from the data, the shopping centres revisited their media strategies. In one market, the analysis revealed that Spotify presented a more effective way to reach certain shoppers versus the traditional channels they had been using, such as radio.

The properties have also started incorporating geo-targeted online ads to improve the way they reach their priority shoppers. Edwards says engagement is up 40% since they started applying their data-driven insights while partnering retailers have noticed a lift in sales.

Providing actionable research
Environics Analytics produced insightful reports for every shopping centre in the CWAS portfolio. Since adopting this data-driven approach, CWAS has been able to identify groups of properties whose priority shopper segments are similar, allowing it to repurpose successful executions, saving money and time by sharing advertising creative and more.

Overall, this data driven vision has allowed the properties to align new insights with their stakeholders for improved clarity and has influenced key decisions. “We wanted a simplified solution that wouldn’t just sit on the shelf,” says Cooper. “It has helped us more strategically market the shopping centres and, in some cases, redefine trade areas.”

Emily Anderson specializes in providing data and analytics-driven solutions for the real estate sector at Environics Analytics.

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