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The tech and human factors you need to take care of your community

With most office workers still working from home and with shoppers generally reluctant to take public transport into city centres, many are rediscovering the joys of shopping locally. How can community shopping centres capitalise on this surge in new customers?

Location, location, location

Data from Springboard shows that footfall across all retail destinations is down 32% on last year.  But city centre retail in the regions is down a massive 53% and in central London it is down 65%. Clearly the loss of office workers and tourists has had a major impact.  It seems all types of shoppers appear to be favouring suburban and local destinations.

And this divergence between different location types is also reflected in the performance of both retailers and landlords. NewRiver Retail has reported that it has collected the rent due in June, or agreed alternative payment terms, on 80% of its portfolio which is focussed on community malls. Hammerson, by contrast, has reported an equivalent figure of only 37% on its portfolio of regional city centre malls. 

Equally, data from the Co-Op shows fewer big weekly grocery shops and more ‘top-up’ visits to convenience stores. Although footfall is down, the average transaction value is up.  This is implying that people are ‘mission shopping’ rather than browsing when they do venture out.

Recognising the renewed importance of suburban locations, the House of Commons has set up a cross-party suburban taskforce.  This aims to understand both the challenges and opportunities facing suburbs.  It then identifies potential policy solutions which could support the long-term sustainability of suburban areas.

Community shopping

So how should community shopping centres react to this rapid change in the make-up of their core shopper 

catchment? The answer lies in a combination of human and technological solutions. Most urgently, there is an important job to be done to educate people who are working from home about what’s on offer in their neighbourhood.  This could then encourage them to visit shops they perhaps didn’t even know existed.

And going forward local shopping centres need to focus on what they do best, which is serving their community. Even during the pandemic, carefully created events and promotions are proven tools for attracting shoppers, turning first-time visitors or infrequent shoppers into loyal customers. Toolbox Marketing’s 20 years’ experience has always been in the community mall environment: working to engage the community, reward them for their loyalty and more importantly offer them what they want and what’s important to them. This isn’t cookie-cutter marketing, this is really understanding your shopping centre’s customer base and working with them to deliver a place that works for them. This is the true value of placemaking, and Toolbox Marketing are the shopping centre placemakers for community and local shopping places.

Communication is key

The growing community of shoppers needs to be nurtured with regular information about what’s on offer, and communication is the key. The Mallcomm platform has a role to play alongside other communications methods.  A balance between factual information and positive experience is required to get people off their sofas and back into their local shopping destinations.

Mallcomm is a tried-and-tested tool for communicating B2B2C.  Creating a sense of community around a shopping centre and incentivising repeat visits whilst ensuring the tenants and the shopping centre community is fully aware of everything going on in their neighbourhood. Effective and streamlined communication and operations, engaging both tenants and customers, is where Mallcomm proves its value.

Toolbox CEO Michelle Buxton said: “Now, more than ever, shopping centres have an important role to play at the heart of their local communities.  Centres need a combination of technology and marketing channels to reach out to their audience. Those that grasp this opportunity to engage actively with their shoppers, community and tenants will gain rewards in increased footfall and improved shopper loyalty, which in turn will drive retailer performance and reduce voids.”