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Chasing Gen Z and Retailers: Property Managers Put TikTok to Use

May 13, 2024

TikTok is proving to be more than just a source for funny cat videos and get-ready-with-me reels. In the U.S. alone, TikTok helped small and midsize businesses boost their sales by $14.7 billion in 2023, according to Oxford Economics.

TikTok is cultivating a new generation of digitally native brands. And a potential U.S. ban on the social media platform hasn’t deterred property owners and managers from using it to get insights into the latest consumer trends, identify up-and-coming concepts and expand their marketing reach to Gen Z shoppers. “TikTok is definitely something we lean into and use because there are over a billion users on it, but it’s always been supplementary to our Facebook and Instagram,” said Ashlyn Booth, executive vice president and senior director of strategy and marketing for retail property management at JLL.

“We love that [Gen Z] is a customer who wants to come in and shop brick-and-mortar, and so we need to go where they are and the majority of them are on TikTok.”

Although JLL makes a point to leverage a variety of social media channels in its marketing strategy, TikTok is especially attractive for reaching 18- to 24-year olds. “That’s what’s exciting for us because when you look at studies, they tell you that Gen Z prefers to shop brick-and-mortar more than the Millennial or Gen X or anyone above them,” said Booth. “We love that this is a customer who wants to come in and shop brick-and-mortar, and so we need to go where they are and the majority of them are on TikTok, which is why we’ve chosen to embrace it.”

Helping Properties Reach Gen Z

TikTok is getting noticed as a marketing and sales channel for good reason. It’s the fifth-most popular social media platform behind Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and Instagram, based on active monthly users. That comes from DataReportal information shared on Statista. And it is the second-most widely used social media platform among Gen Zers, according to eMarketer. The average user spends just over 23 hours a month on the app, according to data on Statista. “In terms of engaging younger audiences, we’re seeing it as a widely used channel that lends itself to things like promotional campaigns and collaborations with social media influencers,” said David Blumenfeld, a partner in NextRivet, a consulting firm that brings digital technology into the physical environment.

JLL has been using TikTok for the past two years to market U.S. and Canada shopping centers it manages. It creates its own posts, and it contracts with local influencers who produce content that the property can repost. “We are very strategic about how we use it and what promotions and what seasons and times of year,” said Booth. For example, during the 2023 holiday season, JLL engaged with one or two local influencers for each of about 50 shopping centers. It asked them to post a series of videos at a property based on a specific theme, such as buying a gift for a hard-to-shop-for person, shopping for holiday decor or visiting Santa.

@countrysidemall HAPPY HAULidays GIVEAWAY �� INSTAGRAM �� Ready to build a haul of your own? Check out our Instagram to enter for a chance to WIN $200 in gift cards!  ��: postcardsfromabi . . . #sponsored #happyhaulidays #holidayhaul #giftguide #giftideas #clearwaterflorida #clearwaterbeach #tampabayarea #exploreclearwater #exploretampa #exploretampabay #visittampa #shoplocaltampa #tampa #clearwaterfun #clearwaterfl #florida #PinellasCounty #CountrysideMall ♬ original sound - Countryside Mall

JLL manages Countryside mall in Clearwater, Florida, and worked with an influencer to create TikTok content around holiday-decor shopping there.


@theshoppesatgrandprairie HAPPY HAULidays GIVEAWAY

Another influencer created TikTok content around a trip to the JLL-managed Shoppes at Grand Prairie in Peoria, Illinois, to shop for holiday treats for her basset hounds, Daisy and Duke.

If you have content that is relevant to the audience, it’s definitely a platform that can help connect with consumers, noted Booth. During the first quarter, influencers at five JLL-managed properties actively were posting on TikTok related to different promotions. Each influencer posted an average of almost eight pieces of content. The nearly 40 posts resulted in almost 200,000 engagements, such as likes, shares, comments and follows, etc.

According to Booth, the cost of contracting with influencers depends on their following, but five or six short videos over a two-week period typically ranges from $1,200 to $5,000. “It’s a great medium even if you have a small marketing budget,” she added.

Retailers Jumping From TikTok Shop to Shopping Centers

Just as e-commerce brands like Allbirds, Bonobos and Warby Parker started online and expanded into physical stores, TikTok could launch future tenants. Women’s clothing brand Edikted opened its first store in New York’s SoHo last November and plans to open at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, this summer. And in the past year, beauty and fashion brand Djerf Avenue, launched by Swedish influencer Matilda Djerf, dipped a toe into the physical-store arena with pop-ups in New York and West Hollywood. Both are online brands that have leveraged TikTok to grow their followings.

Digitally native brands often curate followings online through TikTok and other channels and then step into the physical retail world through a pop-up shop. Especially for fashion, people like to touch products and try them on before buying. “We’re seeing retailers making targeted investments when it comes to their pop-up locations, often opening in large metro areas to augment the following that they’ve established online,” said Clarkston Consulting associate partner David Patterson.

TikTok is being used both by digitally native retailers and traditional retailers to drive sales both online and off-line in their stores. “Those that got their start on these social media platforms use it as an easy way to expand their reach, and they can do so quite organically with relatively low cost,” said Patterson. Legacy retailers also are increasing their presences on TikTok and other social channels in order to “capture eyeballs” online. “It’s less about getting the message out about their product or their service and more around connecting with the shopper as a person and finding messaging that resonates and brings a retailer’s culture to life in the eyes of the consumer,” he added.

Arguably, TikTok is a step ahead of other social platforms in offering TikTok Shop, positioned as a user-friendly social commerce platform that features a strong toolkit for sellers. TikTok brings together product management, shipping, billing, purchasing and returns. “It’s very much a turnkey solution for these next-gen retailers that the legacy competitors may have spent years building across a number of different tech partners,” said Patterson.

TikTok also allows its users to access audience demographics, growth trends and analytics on which of their videos are performing best. “That’s really helping retailers understand what’s resonating well among their consumers and helping them easily and almost in real time shape where they’re directing their marketing efforts in the social space,” said Patterson.

Mining TikTok for Data and Leasing Prospects

Property owners and managers are monitoring TikTok and other social media channels to flag content linked to their properties, often with the help of tools like Hootsuite or Sprinklr. Landlords can use such tools to monitor for keywords or geofences at properties to see what content is being created at particular locations. “Essentially, they’re using it as a social listening tool to understand what’s happening in their environment,” said NextRivet partner Kyle Spencer. They can use that information in a variety of ways, whether for their own marketing efforts or even for security, he added.

“TikTok also is a great way for leasing folks to keep a pulse on what’s new and hip because it is such an influencer channel,” added Blumenfeld. “Obviously, there’s a ton of brands that will never open a physical store, but it is a good hunting ground for leasing folks who are trying to change up the tenant mix and go after new brands that bring people in.”

JLL encourages everyone on its leasing, marketing and management teams to track brands and look for up-and-coming concepts, even if they are not actively posting on TikTok, said Booth. For example, the company manages an Overland Park, Kansas, property where a local doughnut shop’s savvy use of social media is garnering attention. The content is fresh and on point to what’s trending in the news on any given day, and then they spin it back to their doughnuts, she said. “For those of us that are leasing and marketing shopping centers, those are the kinds of retailers that we want to cultivate,” said Booth. “We want to bring in these up-and-coming brands that really get it and understand the best ways to connect with the consumer because that’s only going to make the shopping center more successful in the long run.”

As a backdrop to all this activity, property owners and managers, as well as retailers, are keeping an eye on U.S. government action against TikTok. Congress recently passed a bill that would force TikTok’s parent company to sell to a non-Chinese entity or face a ban in the U.S. If the U.S. does ban the platform, property owners and managers would likely just shift marketing efforts to another channel. “If it does go away, we feel pretty confident that the Gen Z consumer who loves TikTok today and is going there for all their news and information is going to find another platform,” said Booth. “And we will follow and see where they go.”

By Beth Mattson-Teig

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today


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