Web confab outlines ways mall brands can thrive amid pandemic

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The shift to e-commerce has accelerated with the pandemic and has left some brick-and-mortar shops reeling from the impact of the pandemic. There are, however, some opportunities arising as outlined by Germaine Reyes, CEO and president of Synergy Market Research + Strategic Consultancy, in her talk during the second day of the “Flash Forward” online conference on consumer insights

According to Reyes, the quarantine and social distancing guidelines have brought about a steep decline in foot traffic and frequency in visiting malls. Consequently, purchase of food, non-food and other items has shifted to either e-commerce brands or other channels such as direct-to-consumer-from-supplier channel and other means.

“The challenge,” Reyes highlighted, “is how malls and other retail shops can pivot to reflect these behavioral changes while at the same time staying relevant and meaningful to consumers.”

Reyes pointed out that Filipinos from the start of the quarantine have been fearful about Covid-19 and this fear has continued to remain high in the country with about 80% expressing some level of apprehension of contracting the virus.

However, what may be worrisome is that a substantial number of people, about 14% — a significant absolute number when projected to total population — have missed their vaccinations (and possibly other check-up needs). This implies that people believe in providing health care for all patients, not just those that have contracted Covid-19 with Filipinos needing assurance that care for other ailments and health needs will go on unhampered.

Meanwhile, from a purchase behavior standpoint, during this pandemic, a significant overlap has been noted among online and offline buyers. A large percentage of consumers have spent more money both offline and online during the pandemic, indicating that higher offline spenders are able and ready online buyers as well. Only 8% of these higher offline spenders do not buy anything online.

The higher-spending-offline-and-online buyers appear to be skewed to males who may have been thrust into grocery and other types of shopping but they also tended to be younger and in the mid-to-high income levels. They are careful though in making big purchases and are attuned to finance-based messaging and news. For marketeers, they could serve as a model for other groups to follow.

Here are the recommendations, presented by Reyes that mall brands — including merchants — can consider:

  • Malls with extensive branch networks can consider converting some spaces into clinics and other health-and-wellness services. Malls would do well to attract tenants that provide non-Covid-related procedures such as vaccinations and simple out-patient procedures
    • Being in a non-hospital environment can be less threatening to the psyche of patients
    • If a mall has several branches, travel time could be shorter for many who live near malls especially since there has been a proliferation of branches for some mall brands. Relocating to a mall enables such clinics to be within ‘arms reach’ of many Filipinos. It also reduces the fear of catching Covid while in public transportation as some locations may be close enough that commuting might not be necessary.
    • This will serve as traffic ‘drawers’ for the mall for other services and product purchases that are considered as essential these days among those who visit for these health continuity purposes.
    • This will likewise portray mall brands to be caring and understanding of consumer needs.
  • Pre-pandemic, there have already been some brands in countries like the US offering grocery delivery convenience through a roving van. Merchants in the Philippines can introduce such vans that go from city to city or dedicate a roving van per city and load these with basic food and non-food necessities to serve as mobile supermarkets or a grocery-on-wheels. Areas that are not highly accessible or near the company’s mall or supermarket can be prioritized. This will minimize: (1) the amount of time people need to be out of their homes (2) transit time and (3) money spent on fares. For upscale locations, a different roving van for other favorite items or indulgences (beverages on-the-go or other treats that are food/non-food) could be deployed. The van has to be hygienic, safe and picture-ready to also help spread the word around this. Partnerships with LGUs & barangays may even be explored for these initiatives.
  • Considering that high offline spenders tend to also shop online, it may be high time to introduce the following:

    • Virtual shopping – Expand the online supermarket or even introduce a “virtual-video” supermarket (where the shopper can see visuals of actual supermarket shelves) or other essential/non-essential shopping experiences to bring the mall ‘nearer’ to its customers.
      • Brands could introduce a tour to help customers browse and choose items from the confines of their homes

      • A virtual “super” mall online, where shoppers may purchase from any mall merchant anywhere in the country, but would only need 1 mall brand shopping cart. This will provide ease for online shoppers as they would no longer be restricted to nearby malls. The company’s mall merchants can use the physical stores as “localized warehouses” and pick-up points for delivery.

      • Mall brands can provide their own delivery service for online mall purchases or leverage their access to thousands of merchants including restaurants/food stalls into affordable delivery rates from existing logistics/delivery providers.

  • An e-commerce type of app that showcases mall merchants’ good finds but with the mall brand’s shopping experience. The mall brand can populate the app with non-supermarket merchants to provide a ready & easy online selling experience for merchants that customers may have missed during the pandemic.

    • Such an app may be positioned as the app for supermarket items as e-commerce apps may be seen as an app for non-supermarket items.

    • Ensure that the shopping experience is engaging, and provides the shoppers with a sense of discovery and fun while creating a sense of pride and belonging.

Reyes underscored the opportunity for private companies to reinvent themselves and understand the opportunities that this situation presents. “There are many opportunities during these uncertain times for a mall brand to step up and spearhead some private-sector-led initiatives to bring back a sense of normalcy to people’s lives,“ she reiterated.

After two successive years of being touted as ‘The Learning Event of the Year’, Synergy’s flagship conference, “Consumer Insighting & Storytelling WebConference”, has returned this year as a virtual webinar with the theme “Flash Forward’. The conference takes place from 18 to 20 November and has assembled a wide of range of experts from the Philippines and abroad.

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