Retail Traffic
Malls Pull Out All the Online Stops to Boost Holiday Sales

Malls Pull Out All the Online Stops to Boost Holiday Sales

This isn’t your grandmother’s holiday shopping season.

One indication is that mall owner Westfield is running a sweepstakes this week for a pair of tickets to see Kathy Griffin, the comedienne who gained notoriety for, among other things, using an off-color remark about Jesus at the Emmy Awards. Customers don’t have to purchase anything to participate and can drop off their entry forms in person at a Westfield mall, fill them out on Westfield’s website or mail them in.

Last Sunday, Griffin also made an appearance at Westfield Culver City in California, taking pictures with 150 Westfield shoppers. Three of the mall’s Facebook fans won backstage visits with the performer prior to the event.

In an effort to drive up sales for the all important November/December/January period, mall owners are going all out with marketing campaigns, combining social media promotions with giveaways and smartphone apps with charity efforts, all aimed at making holiday shopping easier, cheaper, more meaningful and more fun.

Among this year’s shoppers “there is definitely a push for value and feeling like you are getting a good price for the products you are [buying],” says Alan Cohen, executive vice president of marketing with Westfield. “But I would also say, with the economic turbulence we’ve had this year, there a sense of people being very happy to be out in the whole social experience and looking to have fun at the mall.”

Marketing strategies

Mall operators are using Facebook, Twitter and mobile apps to make shopping as convenient as possible. Owners ranging from Westfield to PREIT to Glimcher Realty Trust are posting fresh retailer promotions and Santa appearance schedules on center web sites and Facebook pages, so shoppers know in advance when to visit the mall to get the most out of the experience.

Plus, posts on social media sites can be used to drive extra traffic to the mall. Columbus, Ohio-based Glimcher Realty Trust, for instance, posts notices about its Santa Surprise Patrol appearances on participating properties’ Facebook pages. Santa Surprise Patrol involves the mall’s managers offering shoppers at the mall gift cards ranging in value from $25 to $500 in a blind drawing. While the practice started several years ago at a few Glimcher malls, this year more than half of the company’s malls are running the promotion, according to Jessi Fausett, the REIT’s director of marketing.

And when Cleveland, Ohio-based Forest City Enterprises promoted a fan appreciation program on its centers’ Facebook pages a week before Black Friday, the promotion helped the company get 14,000 new Facebook fans over the period, the largest increase ever. The program urged shoppers to log in to their local center’s Facebook page on Nov. 23 to see a sneak peak of retailers’ Black Friday deals. Shoppers were also automatically entered to win a VIP parking space at the center for Black Friday.

“It was very popular—we intend to do that again next year and will probably expand upon it,” says Jane Lisy, vice president of marketing.

What’s important to shoppers this year is “anything that makes it convenient and easy for them to find out what’s happening, where the sales are,” says Judy Trias, vice president of retail marketing with PREIT, a Philadelphia-based REIT.

As proof, Trias notes that downloads for PREIT’s smartphone app, which recently became available for Android phones, started rising exponentially in December. From June, when the app was first launched, through November, PREIT saw on average 100 downloads a week. Two weeks ago, the number rose to 400. Last week, it was 900.

It’s not all about the money

Mall owners are also offering their customers non-shopping related perks. For example, in addition to entering sweepstakes, Westfield customers can download a smartphone app for “loliday cards”, superimposing photos of themselves on pictures of 80s-style rockers, nutcrackers and reindeer enthusiasts. They can then email the cards to friends and relatives, or post them on Facebook or Twitter. In addition, shoppers can enter a “Laughing All the Way” sweepstakes with their photos to win $10,000.

“I was at Westfield Culver City yesterday and I saw three people in their early 20s making the card and they said the experience was fantastic,” says Cohen. “Everybody could participate in that program.”

From Dec. 2 through Dec. 16, Washington, D.C.-based Madison Marquette offered its shoppers the chance to win their dream gift by using its centers’ Facebook pages. Shoppers posted either a photo or a description of the gift they coveted, with a maximum value of $200, and were automatically entered in the sweepstakes. People’s wishes ranged from free dinners to Nook e-readers. The five Madison Marquette properties that participated in the promotion gained a 5 percent increase in Facebook fans within a week.

Jones Lang LaSalle Retail, an Atlanta-based third party property manager, is also using holiday sweepstakes to drive shopper participation on its centers’ Facebook pages and in its text messaging program. The company will give away a Kindle e-reader to select shoppers who register on Facebook, through a text message or by visiting the mall and filling out an entry form on-site.

Promotions of this kind help mall owners drive up customers’ participation on their centers’ social media sites. In November, the Facebook pages for Jones Lang LaSalle-managed malls registered approximately 1.7 million newsfeed impressions, which include comments on posts, “likes,” and contest entries.

“It shows that people are actively engaging,” says Julie Rickey, director of consumer marketing with the firm.

Of the 80 enclosed malls Jones Lang LaSalle manages, 43 have Facebook profiles.

There is also a noticeable charity component to this year’s social media promotions. Madison Marquette, for instance, promises to donate $1 to Toys for Tots every time a customer checks into Foursquare while shopping at one of its 11 malls. As of Dec. 15, Madison Marquette registered 1,094 check-ins for its portfolio.

And Westfield shoppers can donate money to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital through Westfield’s websites. Plus, every Westfield center partners with a charity/cause in its local community that’s promoted through the center’s website and Facebook page.

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