As the majority of retail destinations develop their remobilisation plans,  the primary focus will be how to introduce effective social distancing measures that reflect both government advice and consumer expectations.

A different customer experience

The outcome of this will, in the medium term, create a very different customer experience. It will require both intensive onsite management and an integrated communications plan to ensure potential customers are aware of the restrictions ahead of their visit. This will  manage their expectations and provide clarity around the procedures they will need to follow well in advance.

At the same time retailers, will be looking to landlords to support their re-opening. As the number of retailers opening and level of enlivenment within each retail location increases, we would expect footfall to follow. Whilst this represents a positive step towards a return to some form of normality, equally this presents a number of challenges in managing social distancing procedures.  How queue management is implemented to cope with customer volume in the mall areas, for example.

An alternative marketing focus

Balancing safety and wellbeing with customer entertainment and experience comes to the fore here. Retailers’ expectations and centre management objectives might not align as they had previously. Ordinarily, the objective of increasing footfall and animating the retail environment would the priority of marketing strategies. For now the approach will have to be modified, most certainly phased. The focus will be to maintain footfall through a marketing and communication strategy which avoids peaks and utilises digital channels for many of the location’s usual experiential activities. All in the context of future marketing budgets being (rightly) challenged more rigorously, with landlords looking for economies of scale across their portfolios whilst still retaining the individuality of each location.

A phased approach

Currently the Activate team are working with clients to create a phased, cost effective marketing and communications programme. Previous budgets and creative campaigns are being reviewed for cost, ability to be adapted and impact on footfall and customer experience. Phase 1 – Inform and Reassure, may well last for some time and focus solely on delivering H&S information, social distancing guidelines and welcoming customers back. As we move forward, Phases 2 and 3 will broaden the messaging with a view to increasing frequency of visits, variety of retailer content and offline experiential.

The phased plan and the accompanying content will be one of our key tools as we balance the desire to increase footfall while meeting social distancing during remobilisation.

Andrew Sparrow

Director of Placemaking, Activate