Digital Christmas

Published:  26 February, 2014

Research by CACI shows online shopping and click & collect were big features of Christmas 2013. How should centres react, asks Alex McCulloch

CACI conducts surveys across the UK in both peak and off-peak and looking back over lessons learnt in 2013 a few things stand out. The first is the evolution of the digital offer.  It is impossible to predict with any long-term confidence what will happen next in consumer behaviour but to get an understanding of the extent of the change it helps to look to the past. Five years ago Apple launched the iPhone 3g and the idea of internet on the move became possible. Five years later and 42 per cent of John Lewis’s online sales were from mobile devices. 

This step-change in consumer behaviour exemplifies the challenges faced by landlords and retailers and makes clear how important it is to get digital right. The main driver in this shift in consumer behaviour is ease of use. Consumers don’t see shopping as being in ‘channels’ they just shop the path of least resistance and if that means doing so from an iPad on the sofa then that will win out. However while online makes convenience of purchase easy there is not always a consistency in convenience of delivery – and this presents an opportunity for offline.

For Christmas 2014 this means understanding the role of the internet in the Christmas shop and how the landlord and retailer can engage with it – CACI has observed that when comparing the difference in peak vs off–peak spend online shopping increases by up to a third more than offline. This indicates that online actually becomes more important to the customer in the peak period than the off-peak. In terms of how the ‘bricks’ engage with this key areas are:

Experience: the USP of ‘bricks’ is to provide an experience not available on line. This is through events that tap into the community spirit at Christmas (carol singing etc) and also laying on elements to make shopping easier. This can range from intu’s shopping elves who make Christmas shopping easier, to digitally integrated events such as the Twishlist where intu encouraged visitors to the centre to tweet their wish list, some of which the centre then fulfilled – thereby integrating digital into offline shopping. Another great example is Collect+ @ Westfield which exemplifies the blurring of lines between channels and marries the convenience of purchase with the consistency of delivery because customers can try their online purchase on in centre. 

Click & collect: CACI has observed that click & collect take-up rates vary significantly by centre type with smaller more convenience-led locations having click & collect rates at up to three times that observed in destination centres. This means that even among the more convenience centres, with high rates of click & collect, the Christmas period with its increased online shopping represents an opportunity. This could be from housing Amazon lockers, marketing the centre as a click & collect destination or simply encouraging and working with retailers in the centre to focus on click & collect in their Christmas material. 

The main challenge to shopping centres at Christmas will be to fully integrate their offer with the consumer because CACI has observed in surveys that a consumer who has come to the centre through click & collect goes on to have a greater average spend, comparable dwell and greater frequency than an offline customer – so online can be used to drive customers to centre. This could include areas such as:

  • Mobile geo-fencing whereby Christmas offers are made to consumers mobiles as they shop in centre
  • Ensuring there is free wifi in the scheme
  • Ensuring that the Christmas marketing plan is integrated both online and offline, encouraging those engaging with the centre digitally to come in scheme and those in scheme to go online
  • Rewarding loyalty to customers who engage both on and offline

The more knowledge that centres can build up about their customer base and their peak behaviour the more that they can inform their future strategy and ensure they have the right offer for their customer.

Alex McCulloch is principal consultant at CACI.

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