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Comment: Should shopping centres invest in events?

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Twenty years ago, if you were offered a piece of cheese to taste in a field marketing exercise at a shopping centre (probably called an Arndale Centre in those days) it would have been considered an ‘event’. Today, electronic wizardry allied to sheer scale (as manifested by the recent Jubilee celebrations) have radically changed the ‘event’ game.

Experience expectations, particularly of young people, have escalated. Many eight+ year olds these days make their own decisions about what their parents should buy for them and what they should see. And twenty years ago, people seemed to have had more time for such frivolities. No longer.

So, if the retail/catering mix is not enough to attract them, the modern time-poor shopping centre catchment audience needs a very special means of persuasion to be attracted to the centre: an event, with two key criteria - relevance to their lifestyles, and the overall ‘excitement’ of the event.

In developing an event strategy, the first of these criteria depends crucially on market research employing , for example, Retail Footprint/ACORN analysis to identify key customer groups. The second depends on original creativity to build on the research findings to create a compelling scenario for the chosen target audience. But, it is a mistake to assume that shoppers in volume will spend time at an event that they only find out about while they are shopping at the centre.

They will only come through prior persuasion that enables them to allocate more time for their visit, starting with the event and then going on to shop if that is part of the time deal they have struck with themselves. For some, this occasion will be the first time they have been to the centre. And for regular visitors, it may well be seen as a ‘reward’.

Accurate and fine-tuned research methods in providing an in-depth understanding of catchment areas mean that even niche-market events stand greater chance of success when targeting the right audiences.

Working very closely with the centre marketing resource, Fox Kalomaski Crossing has successfully employed such precision marketing methods for a range of top shopping centres around the UK. Most recently, Gloucester Quays Outlet Centre has benefitted from truly outstanding responses to a food festival, a gardening show and a Christmas Victorian market. The decision to stage these events was based on a complete analysis of the outlet’s target market, ensuring relevance and a memorable experience, helped in some cases by celebrity appearances, boosting Gloucester Quay’s image while increasing footfall, dwell-time and retail spend.

Within the shopping centre, retailers have and should grasp, the opportunity to tap into the groundswell of public interest in events by launching promotions and displays linked to the show theme.

Although participating stands at events can defray the costs of staging, the main expenditure must inevitably come from the centre’s marketing budget. But in our experience, the VFM argument in favour of an event strategy investment is undeniable.

Published on Monday 23 July by Editorial Assistant

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