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Putting the Shopping Centre in the Palm of Your Hand – The Move to Mobile at Retail

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By Perry Schawrtz

The race to help businesses big and small get online in a meaningful way is well underway. With wide-spread lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in place across the country, the pandemic has accelerated the need for shopping centres to digitize their offerings. This trend has seen the proliferation and increased adoption of digital platforms like Shopify, Lightspeed, and fellow Canadian company, GetintheLoop.

Recently, we’ve even started to see various levels of government take action on this front with local Chambers of Commerce, Business Improvement Areas (BIAs), and other grassroots associations driving the shop local movement with a variety of digital and mobile strategies.

Matt Crowell
Matt Crowell

This growth in mobile isn’t new. Mobile user numbers have been steadily growing at a rate of 50 percent per year for the last 15 years, getting us pretty close to the point where every human on earth is now ‘connected’ via smartphone. What did change significantly in 2020 was moved from a steady one percent of growth per year in e-commerce over the last 18 years to an astonishing 10 percent increase in online retail sales in just the first eight weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“2020 was an eye-opening year for our company. We quickly saw how the pandemic was making it more important than ever for businesses big and small to create a digital strategy. We have been working tirelessly to support the needs of thousands of local merchants as well as dozens of shopping centres and their tenants across Canada,” said Matt Crowell, Founder, and CEO of GetintheLoop. “With 63 percent of bricks and mortar shopping starting online, our platform is purposely built to help physical businesses attract and retain customers through an omnichannel digital approach that is focused on making it easy for consumers to find and support local businesses.”

Photo: Cornwall Centre

Shopping centres have long been the Mecca of local commerce, and despite recent challenges, Crowell and the GetintheLoop team don’t see that changing. In a recently published white paper titled, “Re-Imagining The Shopping Centre Experience,” he outlines how consumers are changing the way they interact with shopping mall retailers and how the services those shopping centres offer in the future are also adapting quite dramatically.

“It is important for us to support our tenants’ goals,” said Theresa Warnaar, Senior Vice President, Retail and Asset Resilience, KingSett Capital. “With the significant change in consumer consumption behaviour, we are investing in a digital strategy to help facilitate an enhanced shopping experience. In Cornwall Centre, for example, we have seen shopper engagement increase by over 200 percent with new consumer trends such as curbside pickup.

Transitioning long-standing retail strategies and evolving the marketing approach and the operational practices of shopping centres and their tenants won’t happen overnight. It takes time to develop and implement a fully-integrated and marketing strategy that seamlessly works between the online and physical retail environments.

One company that has proactively invested in their digital future is commercial real estate services firm, Cushman & Wakefield. This past year, GetintheLoop partnered with Cushman & Wakefield to support its retailers at 21 retail shopping centres across Canada.

“While it’s still early days of our partnership with GetintheLoop, we have seen significant success with up to 75% of tenants opting into the platform within the first 90 days,” said Molly Westbrook, Executive Managing Director for Canada, Cushman & Wakefield Asset Services. “The new tools allow us to provide our tenants with an extended reach on mobile and digital channels that drive awareness and engagement for their promotions, new product arrivals, and curbside services. We’re also helping consumers find relevant, local information on their smartphones that enhances their overall shopping experience in today’s omnichannel environment.”

So, what does all this mean for the future of traditional retail in Canada? If we’ve learned one thing over the past ten months, it’s that retailers who aren’t engaging with their customers digitally will struggle to survive. Those that were slow to integrate digital within their shopping experience before the pandemic have realized that they’re playing catch-up. In contrast, brands that were already active in the digital sandbox have undeniably given themselves a leg up on the competition when things begin to normalize again.

If you needed more proof that digital and mobile strategies are leading the way for traditional organizations in the wake of the pandemic, look no further than the 152-year-old H.J. Heinz Company, which became the unofficial condiment of the pandemic when it launched an impossibly time-consuming jigsaw puzzle on social media in the early days of lockdown, and later partnered with food delivery apps and Spotify to deliver a baseball stadium experience before the start of the fan-less 2020 season.

As we look ahead to the coming months, it’s clear that we’re in the early days of a digital transformation taking place at shopping centres as retailers begin to adapt to new consumer expectations and market demands posed by the pandemic in 2021. It will be interesting to see how retailers leverage the digital toolbox to look for new ways to attract customers to their brands in creative and engaging ways.

Crowell sat down with Retail Insider’s Editor-In-Chief Craig Patterson right before Christmas to share some insights about the shopping centre’s digitization on our December 22 episode of the Retail Insider Podcast.

If you’re interested in more on how Matt and his team view the future, download GetintheLoop’s white paper: Re-Imagining the Shopping Centre Experience.

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