As shopping centers begin to reopen across the U.S., engagement with tenants and shoppers alike has become an important core strategy for bringing centers back to life. “Although different states have different policies, most of the guidelines are similar,” said Anjee Solanki, national director of retail services at Colliers International. “Many owners developed a baseline reopening playbook back in mid-May to accommodate for the various phases of reopening.”
Those playbooks include:
“A lot of the reopening progress depends on the property type and where the property is located in the country,” said Gavin Farnam, managing director and retail practice leader for CBRE Asset Services in the Americas. “Many grocery-anchored centers and power centers had essential retailers, so their ramp-up has been much quicker than enclosed malls, where there has been slow and steady progress.” In Philadelphia, for example, CBRE research found that COVID-19 reduced shopping center foot traffic by over 66 percent, though as state and local governments barred dine-in service, grocery-anchored centers saw increased activity. “PECO’s shopping centers never closed,” said Bob Myers, COO of Phillips Edison & Co., which owns and manages more than 310 grocery-anchored centers across the U.S.
Phillips Edison is helping restaurants increase outdoor seating where possible, is setting up Front Row to-Go curbside pickup for inline tenants across its portfolio and has prepared a digital toolkit with downloadable social media graphics, printable signage and banners and customizable flyers to help them promote safety practices, including social distancing. At the company’s Naperville Crossings in Illinois, for example, outside dining is booming thanks to a large patio with tables and chairs adjacent to multiple restaurants. “People just want to be normal again,” said Myers.
URW has opened 15 of its U.S. centers in Connecticut, Florida and California — including in Los Angeles, San Diego, Palm Desert and Sacramento — and will open more as states continue to lift restrictions. “We reopen each center only after public authorities have communicated a reopening date and we have implemented the necessary health and safety protocols to keep everyone safe,” said URW U.S. chief marketing officer and digital director Ghadi Hobeika.
URW now works with select retailers to promote and facilitate curbside pickup; has increased the availability of remote customer service representatives, ambassadors and personal shopping assistance; and is deploying advertising and creative assets throughout each center and at key points of customer engagement. Its messaging focuses on hygiene standards, social distancing and operations like increased cleaning. URW will begin selling masks and no-touch keys for shoppers starting June 12. A portion of the proceeds will go directly to No Kid Hungry’s COVID-19 relief fund.
URW also will launch a digital platform in the next few weeks that will facilitate shopping by appointment, will operate virtual waitlists and will offer real-time views of shopping center crowds before customers head over.
Kite, which owns 90 convenience and lifestyle centers across the U.S., created a reopening resources program along with various initiatives in late May. “Throughout KRG’s portfolio, our tenants have worked hard to adapt to a very fluid environment,” said chairman and CEO John Kite. “As reopenings continue, we are encouraged by the effort and ingenuity that businesses have displayed at all of our centers, and we will continue to seek creative opportunities to support our retailers.”
That support includes designated parking zones for pickup, which all tenants can use, as well as a pilot program for lockers for contactless pickup of online purchases from small shops. Sidewalk signage promotes social distancing in queues where needed, and Kite is delivering hand sanitizer bottles for small-shop tenants to position for customers. Kite also created an online forum for tenants that’s focused on reopening efforts and strategy, populated by content from third-party advisory Tenant Mentorship.
Most of the 30 million square feet of retail space Vestar manages across the western U.S. did not close, according to president of management services R. Patrick McGinley. “From a marketing perspective, we had to reapproach our typical event-driven strategies to instead focus on 100 percent digital campaigns. These included regular updates via our social media channels and email, display advertising to relay tenant support and other various initiatives. We also created some innovative no-contact activations like the drive-in-restaurant inspired OneDine food delivery program, drive-through art exhibits, drive-in movies and more.”
Though the reopening phase is still in its infancy, these recent strategies are likely to take hold for months to come. “In this omni-channel world, I think long-term curbside customer pick-up is going to be important for all centers moving forward,” said CBRE’s Farnam. “Planning and hosting thoughtful events over the next 12 months will be important, as well. Small, targeted events and virtual events will be key to engaging customers and keeping centers relevant.”
By Ben Johnson
Contributor, Shopping Centers Today