Although mall marketing managers may be doing all they can to prolong the holiday shopping season and pulling out all the stops to keep consumers at their properties as long as possible (see “Creating a Big Bang,” p. 118), when it comes to reaching out to communities, most are still sticking to tried-and-true methods.
Marketing managers are combining the traditional blend of advertising media — print, radio, television and direct mail — to market discounts and promote special events. The Internet will play a larger role then ever, as managers turn to e-mail, special microsites and other online widgets in efforts to inform shoppers about seasonal promotions and provide tips to ease shopping stress as a way to complement the in-mall experience.
The strategy stems from expectations for the holiday season. In spite of some bleak projections calling for it to be the worst holiday shopping season in several years, at least some retailers remain bullish and mall managers are following that lead.
“Retailers are confident about this holiday season,” says John Bacon, communications director for Kansas City, Mo.-based REDLLC. He points to major tenants like Best Buy, who aren't doing anything different marketing-wise than in the past, except extending store hours and offering deeper-than-normal discounts on Black Friday. “That's why we feel confident in doing what we're doing, which is just to strengthen [existing] programs.”
The National Retail Federation published a study of shoppers showing that consumers planned to spend an average of $923.26 on holiday gifts, up 3.5 percent from last year (about half the 7 percent gain recorded between 2005 and 2006). Overall it is projecting a 4 percent gain in total sales, down from 7 percent last year. Projections from other analysts are also in that range.
But in many mall managers' books any growth is good growth and as long as shoppers aren't pulling back and spending less than they did in years past, it should be a solid season. “At the end of the day, this is America and Christmas is Christmas,” says Cheryl Dougherty, vice president of marketing for Pennsylvania REIT. She points out that studies indicate that higher gas prices are causing people to shop less often, but longer stays at centers balance that out. In the end, shoppers end up spending less on gas while keeping retail spending high through making more purchases in fewer trips.
When it comes to luring customers to properties, the biggest change between this year and holidays past is that mall companies are putting more and more effort and creativity into online campaigns.
“The Internet has been a cost-effective way to promote what's going on in centers,” says Kim Jones, marketing director at RED Development's Village Pointe shopping center in Omaha, Neb. “We've been real pleased with e-mail,” she adds, noting a 30 percent to 40 percent increase over last year in opened e-mail blasts.
Moreover, marketing managers can use information collected when consumers register for e-mail lists and respond to promotions to build a database for future campaigns. This year, Jones is using e-mail blasts to advertise RED's annual ornament giveaway program. (The center gives free imported, hand-blown Kugel ornaments to customers that spend more than $200 at the property.)
Managers at Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises' Victoria Gardens, a 1.3-million-square-foot open-air shopping center in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., also capture information about shoppers from e-mail registrations and Internet promotions to expand a direct database used for an annual gift-card giveaway. The program targets households fitting certain demographic criteria to receive a holiday greeting card that offers the recipient a gift card worth between $10 and $1,000.
“It's a fun game of chance,” says Paulette Caputo, director of marketing for Forest City, explaining that no one knows the value of the gift card until the barcode on the greeting card is scanned. The high value of many gift cards makes the program popular with shoppers. It also enables Forest City to track how customers spend money and where they shop. Caputo says it generates sales for a minimalbecause the cost of the program is divided among tenants. And, shoppers with gift cards typically end up spending over and above the card's value. A survey of last year's buyers found that typical shoppers spent 2.5 times as much as the cards they redeemed.
Glimcher Realty Trust, a Columbus, Ohio-based REIT, is also making use of Internet marketing tools this year. In fact, the firm has replaced entirely its traditional direct mail with e-mail, according to Jill Clark, director of marketing. “Traditional direct mail is very expensive, and it's just as efficient to go electronic,” Clark says.
Glimcher is using e-mail to inform shoppers about replacement of the company's traditional holiday coupon book with a retailer discount card and brochure. Individual property Web sites provide the most up-to-date versions of the discount brochure and copy of the discount card, which customers can download and print.
At Macerich Co., the firm's marketing staff is focused on building the company's e-mail database to launch a holiday marketing campaign, says Susan Valentine, vice president of Consumer Experience at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based owner and developer. “E-mail is the most cost-efficient way to expedite retailer promotions and support our own marketing program,” Valentine says. The company has planned several e-mail blasts during the holidays, which will be supplemented with traditional media buys.
Opus West used traditional media buys in conjunction with electronic media to announce the opening of the Hill Country Galleria town center development in Bees Cave near Austin, Texas, in mid-October, but will limit e-mails to people who signed up to receive updates about the center, notes Joel DeSpain, vice president of real estate for Opus West.
In mid-November, Opus will shift its marketing efforts into a holiday mode, with the lineup of entertainment and children's activities planned leading up to Christmas posted on the property's Web site.
Yet another firm going the e-mail route is Columbus, Ohio-based Continental Real Estate. But they worry about oversaturating their customers, according to David Brudy, CEO for DRB Group LLC, which consults Continental. The firm will limit e-mail blasts during the holidays, because “anything more than twice a month feels like spam, and people will block us,” he says.
DRB will also supplement electronic communications with a combination of media buys targeting women ages 24 to 54. Ads convey a consistent message that Continental lifestyle centers provide a superior shopping experience.
“When making a choice about where women shop, we want to be in the top three,” says Brudy, noting marketing messages will focus on safety, the pleasant environment, unique gift offerings and opportunities to combine shopping trips with entertainment.
Going to bat for apparel
Macerich is focusing its marketing efforts this year on directly helping apparel retailers increase sales. “The Life of Style” campaign will highlight items that represent holiday traditions, providing advice like “where to find that fabulous little black dress for holiday parties or child's tutu for a holiday production of Swan Lake,” says Valentine. Corporate is providing on-site marketing professionals a template and access to photo libraries, so they can tailor promotions to their property's own tenants.
The company will also launch its annual www.santatrackingstation.com November 1 linked to North American Aerospace Defense Command's Santa Tracking program, which keeps children informed about Santa's progress on Christmas Eve. The Web site will promote Santa Tracking Stations at Macerich malls, which feature an interactive world map to teach children geography based on Santa's delivery route.
Caruso Affiliated is also launching an Internet advertising initiative to promote holiday shopping at its Grove project in Los Angeles. This new Internet outreach effort involves placement of ads on 50 Web sites to reach the Grove's diverse shopper demographics, says Jennifer Gordon, vice president at Los Angeles-based Caruso.
Customers presenting the Internet promotion will receive free valet parking, as well as 25 percent off at Barneys New York Co-Op if they spend at least $250 in one day at the property.
Caruso will also use the Internet to market events and entertainment throughout the holiday season, including a tree-lighting show featuring celebrity entertainment and a fireworks display that last year attracted more than 30,000 spectators. Gordon sees this new advertising strategy as a test for Internet marketing's ability to reach the property's targeted demographic.
“Many premier retailers are placing more of their ad dollars into Internet programs, indicating that this medium is now reaching a broader, sophisticated consumer audience,” Gordon notes. “This level of outreach is a new initiative for the Grove, and we will closely monitor the results.”