Remobilising Retail

Online engagement creates physical retail resilience

Months of successive national lockdowns has provided consumers with the rare opportunity to accumulate high levels of savings. The ensuing summer of revenge spending brought customers back to shopping in their town centres. Now that summer is over, and with Christmas campaigns beginning against a backdrop of inflation fears and predictions of shortages, the retail sector is preparing itself for the challenges of the coming months.

Nick Hilton, partner within the retail and leisure team at Workman, says that during the height of the pandemic destination marketing quickly pivoted to digital-only strategies to maintain connections with customers and help retailers embrace click and collect, many for the first time. As locations began to reopen, destination marketing strategies evolved to incorporate hybrid physical and digital enlivenment.

Average organic social media growth is at 44% per Workman scheme so far in 2021, and website traffic generated more than two million visitors – gains made in building digital communities which have proven beneficial during re-openings, as they have translated into real measurable footfall gains.

“At one Leamington Spa centre, online content promoting a summer ‘Beats & Eats’ event featuring live music on a small stage secured online engagement of more than 30 per cent, which translated into footfall increases of nine per cent week on week,” Hilton tells. “Results like these prove that strong online followings are a powerful tool in creating intent to visit physical destinations, especially important for reaching customers now accustomed to online shopping, or those still apprehensive of physical shopping.”

Family activities during school holidays and weekends and ticketed events that build consumer confidence via demonstrable safety measures, have also performed particularly well, he says, such as a ticketed escape room event for Halloween at one of Workman’s centres in which participants stayed in their own groups and booked online.

Key to Workman’s strategy has been strong digital communities, which enabled centre teams to use their platforms to integrate communications plans with on-site management, ensuring customers were aware of restrictions and guidelines ahead of their visit, making it easier to manage expectations, provide clarity, and build confidence.

“Balancing safety and wellbeing with customer entertainment and experience came to the fore during the remobilisation of retail,” Hilton explains. “This meant adapting the marketing approach to reflect evolving operational requirements and budgets, while supporting brands, increasing footfall, and animating the retail environment.”

With different regions experiencing varying levels of confidence amid continued uncertainty, he says that tailored marketing campaigns that respect local sentiment and reflect community needs will be fundamental. He advises a joined up approach to ensure destinations are top of mind, building confidence, driving engagement, and reigniting loyalty among consumers.

With regards to the Christmas shopping season, Hilton adds: “It is vital to leverage destination marketing in order to add value to the customer experience, and help local communities build confidence in their retail destinations.”

This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.

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