The lines are blurring between the physical and online retail worlds. Consumers expect to be able to order online and collect in store the next day. They want to interact with their favourite brands on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even more modern channels such as Snapchat and Vine by having entertaining, informative and valuable special offers and alerts delivered direct to their mobile phones.
Most retailers are embracing these changes and traditional marketing strategies are evolving to keep up with consumers in the digital age. Luckily, technology has placed many tools and channels at the fingertips of shopping centre managers and retailers to maximise their online presence and thereby help increase visits in real life.
Take 360-degree Google Tours. These allow potential consumers to explore a whole shopping centre or individual shop from the comfort of their screen and familiarise themselves with the brands present, facilities and layout.
Either embedded on a destination’s main website or viewable as part of a Google search or Google Maps results, the tours add an extra dimension to a centre’s profile and give a fuller flavour of the brand, thereby increasing the probability of click-throughs to a centre’s website and also physical footfall. This virtual initial touch point with a customer can demonstrate the gravitas of a centre, making it a more attractive offering to visit.
Video content is another option and is proving to be particularly engaging. Whether in the form of Vines (six-second-long looping video clips), which can quickly showcase a new product or store launch, or longer-form videos reduced to a time-lapse clip which can show a 10-minute fashion show or store launch in a quick burst. These can be shared on YouTube, through Twitter via Periscope, or even on Facebook where live video can help generate buzz and conversations around a brand. People may have noticed their friends live streaming on Facebook and this can be a powerful tool for business, both attracting a new audience and engaging with an existing fan base.
Facebook recently launched Facebook360 which combines some of the qualities of both of the above. Created by using the ‘panorama’ function on a smartphone, and while at first glance appearing as a normal photo on users’ phones, these quickly open up into fully interactive 360-degree images which allow viewers to pan simply by rotating the device in their hand.
Again, Facebook360 provides a more immersive experience than static images and has the potential to enable centres to create virtual guides. They can also track which locations viewers spend most time exploring and, conversely, which are least popular, helping to inform future strategies.
While online was initially perceived as a foe by bricks and mortar retailers it is now proving to be much more of a friend, and a useful means of expanding visibility to reach shoppers far and wide.