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One of the most unprecedented things about the world’s response to the COVID-19 crisis is how fast situations change. One day, we are being told to avoid large gatherings and wash our hands, and the next day, entire states and countries are giving stay at home orders. Every night, we all go to sleep wondering what the news will be the next morning. As retail real estate professionals, we’ve been waking up and asking ourselves what the latest recommendations are going to be to keep tenants, employees, and their families safe and healthy? Whether we are owners, property managers, tenants, or employees, we need to have the most up to date information provided in real-time in order to make the best decisions for ourselves and our businesses.

We’ve all witnessed the progression of COVID-19 and its pervasive effects on everyday life. As shutdown orders were issued, retail employees everywhere woke up wondering if they were going to work that day, or if their stores would be among those announcing closures. Property managers had the difficult task of informing an entire mall of this rapidly developing situation while making tough decisions in order to keep the staff safe. It was a hard wake up call for property managers trying to reach both on-site and off-site store managers, many of whom were accustomed to a traditional way of working where messages and operations were often managed by way of paper memos being manually dropped off to each tenant. Even for more pressing messages communicated by email or phone, these outdated methods still slow down the speed of alerts, something that is critically important in emergency situations.

“What has happened to the industry in the past few weeks has demonstrated that tenant engagement platforms are no longer a ‘nice to have’ accessory for retail real estate.”

Randall McKillop, Executive Vice President Americas for Mallcomm

It’s safe to say that retail has been slower in adopting technology to manage their day-to-day tasks. Those who adapted quicker are finding success using tenant engagement apps and today especially, are reaping the benefits of such tools. Randall McKillop, Executive Vice President Americas for Mallcomm, a tenant engagement platform that specializes in retail real estate, has had a front row seat in observing shopping mall owners and operators manage the ongoing situation with various levels of success. He explains, “What has happened to the industry in the past few weeks has demonstrated that tenant engagement platforms are no longer a ‘nice to have’ accessory for retail real estate. They are an essential tool that has the power to determine how successful your crisis management processes will end up being.”

Long gone are times when tenant engagement platforms were simply used to broadcast messages. The true trailblazers on the market quickly realized that there is a demand after digitalizing the everyday tasks. For Mallcomm, operations and security have always played a key role in developing functionality that will create efficiencies across all departments within mall management and this approach certainly paid off for the company and its some 300 clients globally. As the ongoing situation develops, the property teams are able to manage their assets through efficient tracking of all maintenance tasks, distribution of the right messages to the right people at the right time and most importantly, keeping their tenants safe by giving direct instructions on immediate store closures through its critical comms feature. “Managing critical situations has always been on the top of our priority list, long before COVID-19, and we already provide our customers with the ability to instantly contact their tenants through the app messages, priority push notification, email, SMS or landline calls, all at a press of a button. Once a message is sent out, a real time overview of who has read and/or interacted with the message is available immediately,” Randall adds.

Many may be questioning the role of a tenant engagement platform during a time when the majority of buildings lie empty. For Mallcomm, there was never a more critical time to ensure the relationship with your tenants remains a priority. According to Randall, “Your tenants need the support now. They have concerns about the future of their business and about the wellbeing of their staff, but at the same time, they need to ensure their premises and stock are kept safe.” Mallcomm enables tenants to not only access daily audit reports and security information, but they can also request access to the building for external contractors, pre-book time slots to visit their stores, and manage all mandatory maintenance tasks in a safe manner.

As social distancing measures progress, people are realizing now more than ever how important it is to have social contact with peers, and Mallcomm has proved to be one of the best community building tools for shopping centers. Randall explains, “Across our users, we have seen some truly inspirational ways colleagues are engaging with one another and supporting their communities through morale boosting exercises. Our clients regularly hold digital quizzes, share quarantine activities ideas, and review books, recipes, and TV shows to keep spirits high and maintain a sense of camaraderie.”

The most forward thinking landlords don’t stop there. They are using applications like Mallcomm to organize webinars for business training and private sessions with local banks and municipalities to help their tenants overcome their difficulties related to COVID-19. With the right technology, the possibilities truly are endless.

Property managers realize many tenants will be apprehensive about making sure their stores are fully prepared to reopen when the time comes to do so. Mallcomm has partnered with its clients to develop best practices for reopening including providing digital department checklists and a system for tenants to book time slots for access to their spaces prior to reopening. Staggered bookings ensure that everyone has time and access to prepare without overcrowding the center.

“I can’t imagine having to try and manage COVID-19 communications without it, especially being able to reach tenants while off-site.”

Jason Blum, Property Manager for Oxford Properties Group

Above all, tenants will stay up to date with the latest information regarding plans for reopening—something that would be a logistical nightmare for any property managers that don’t have a tenant engagement app, right now. “I can’t imagine having to try and manage COVID-19 communications without it, especially being able to reach tenants while off-site,” said Mallcomm client Jason Blum of Oxford Properties Group.

Property managers relying on email, phone, or even paper memos to communicate with tenants are wasting valuable time and effort. What’s worse, not everyone is getting the message, and that can be dangerous in high-risk situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. For malls and town centers, tenant closures don’t mean property management can close its doors too. On the contrary, property managers need to ensure that businesses remaining open, whether to the public or to fulfill online orders, have the ability to function without interruption. Tenants also need to be able to access their spaces during closures for a variety of reasons, and they need to feel like the community they belong to is still there to support them. But more important than all of that is consistent communication—making sure that critical information gets to its intended recipients in real time, especially when that information impacts people’s health and safety. Providing up to date information is no longer a luxury, and tenant engagement apps like Mallcomm ensure open channels of communication during these unprecedented times.