As retail properties begin to reopen, we’ve been hearing a collective sigh of relief, as if to say, “Finally, we are back in business.” Owners, operators, tenants, employees, and even customers are all eager to get centers and malls up and running again, but the process by which this will happen is just as important as the outcome. In fact, the process will determine the outcome, meaning, thorough preparation and execution of a retail property’s reopening strategy will dictate its success and play a lasting role in traffic patterns and business operations going forward. A successful reopening strategy means providing customers with a frictionless experience, regardless of how difficult it might be to juggle all the moving parts just below the surface.
Randall McKillop, EVP of Mallcomm, an occupier engagement and property management tool, confirms the sentiment: “We all realize that for a period of time, at least, things will change and public gathering spaces, such as retail destinations, will need to adjust the way they operate significantly. Shopping malls and retailers both will need to take measures to keep their patrons safe and their initial success will, to some degree, determine how fast retail can recover.“
Technology is helping to make this transition easier, safer, and more cost-effective, and retail properties that want a successful reopening need to consider incorporating technology in their plans. To help owners and operators do this, we’ve put together a list of points every shopping mall landlord and operating agent should include in their recovery process:
1. MANAGING OPERATIONS TO COMPLY WITH NEW HEALTH & SAFETY GUIDELINES
You will want to ensure that property management teams and retailers are regularly updating their cleaning and operational protocols based on recommended guidelines. Implementing new protocols can be challenging as they are often prone to mistakes, and right now, mistakes are not allowed. Digital checklists, like those created by Mallcomm, allow operators and managers to easily track the progress on all operational and cleaning protocols, task by task.
These customizable checklists provide a comprehensive reporting system to monitor the completion of every procedure required to keep buildings fully compliant. Not only can these lists be updated instantly, but any incomplete task will automatically raise a ticket to the relevant team member or store, ensuring that no important action is forgotten, which holds teams accountable. “We are seeing an incredibly fast adoption of our digital checklists as stores are getting ready to reopen,” said McKillop. “Without a digital management tool there is no way to be certain that stores are being properly prepared to open. Now, managers have more ability than ever to check in on the status of their facilities or stores.”
2. UNDERSTANDING YOUR RETAILERS’ PLANS
Many malls are employing a phased approach as they build up to a full reopening. Not all retailers will reopen on the same day, and the opening times and hours of operation may vary, especially while stores are still in preparation. You should have a good understanding of your tenants’ plans, so you can prepare for staggered unit visitations and prebook delivery slots accordingly. Because delivery times may be frequently delayed right now, real-time, documented communication helps ensure that tenants have enough time to prepare while providing the flexibility to change plans as needed.
Having a strong two-way communication system is the foundation of any good relationship and should be an integral part of your mall’s technology strategy. Jason Blum from Yorkdale Shopping Centre, a part of Oxford Properties describes his experience with using the technology. “I can’t imagine having to try and manage COVID-19 communications without it, especially being able to reach tenants while off site. Tenants or staff that were skeptical about signing up have quickly changed their minds.”
3. KEEPING YOUR RETAILERS INFORMED
Your retailers will be turning to you for guidance. It’s important that you not only provide access to the most up-to-date information and safety guidelines, but you must also ensure your tenants are using it to guide their operations as well. The most efficient way to communicate with retailers is through software, like Mallcomm, that can be easily downloaded to mobile devices. This literally puts the knowledge in the tenants’ hands by allowing their entire staff to download the app and receive updates in real time. “Real-time communication is of essence. We’ve been helping our clients put together a comprehensive reopening content guide to keep their occupiers in the know at all times, including easy access to national support links, government policies, mall information, and important contacts,” explains McKillop.
4. PROVIDING TOOLS FOR SUCCESSFUL REOPENING
Immediately following the lifting of lockdown restrictions, many forward-thinking landlords put together a suite of social distancing collateral, such as signage, point of sale (POS) posters, and floor stickers, offering these templates for their tenants to download directly from their Mallcomm app. Having uniform social distancing guidelines and signage throughout the entire property helps create a seamless customer experience by ensuring that all tenants are supporting the same message.
Digital portals like Mallcomm can also support retailers by allowing them to share staffing needs with an engaged, targeted audience. Sharing employee loyalty promotions through the portal can also help retailers generate sales and be proactive with marketing.
With social distancing measures comes new challenges like monitoring the amount of people walking in and out of the building. While many malls may already have live footfall counters, individual retailers with smaller square footage could be at a disadvantage due to space restrictions. Retailers will need to maintain real-time counts of the number of people in their stores at any given time to ensure they never exceed maximum capacity.
“During the reopening process, we have included a manual counter in all Mallcomm apps, enabling the stores and malls to easily keep track of their footfall. Like everything else in the platform, the feature is backed by a real-time reporting ability, ensuring that you can measure your reopening success every step of the way,” said McKillop.
6. INFORMING YOUR CUSTOMERS
Through all of this, you still want to provide mall patrons with a frictionless experience to ensure return business. By consistently updating consumer-facing channels with the most accurate information available, you will be proactive in managing your customers’ expectations. Mallcomm, unlike other communication solutions on the market, has the ability to engage your entire community: occupiers, contractors, operations, suppliers, but also shoppers and visitors.
“Having a platform that is capable of supporting your B2B and B2C comms from one place has proven extremely helpful to our clients. This is the time your communication strategy needs to be efficient, and Mallcomm has managed just that through streamlining processes and generating savings by reallocating resources to the areas that need it most.” McKillop adds.
Eventually, shopping centers and malls will once again fully reopen, but the ways in which they reopen will hold a lot of weight in terms of their future success. Quick, efficient communication will be one of the key factors in meeting and complying with safety standards. Having technology that can hold tenants accountable to meeting these standards will be the difference between a smooth roll-out and another shutdown. In this case, the tools are no longer an add-on, they’re a critical life-line.