How to engage your shoppers during COVID-19

How to engage your shoppers during covid-19

How to engage your shoppers during COVID-19

Customer activations and events. Just hearing these words right now will make shopping centre management teams cringe. The events that once brought foot traffic to your centre are simply not possible in the current climate. Social distancing restrictions are putting a strain on retail, particularly in Victoria where lockdown restrictions continue. Yet, we still need to develop strategies that will engage customers, encourage shopping and support retailers during this time.

Below we have outlined 10 ideas for you to continue engaging shoppers while in-centre events are not possible. These strategies will help your shopping centre adapt to a COVID-19 and post COVID-19 world.

1) Adapt and go digital

The ability to adapt and innovate as a business is paramount to survival during this time. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that businesses need to be accessible online. For shopping centres, it is a priority that you keep customers updated on the latest news and inform them of alternative ways they can purchase products while restrictions impact normal operations.

According to NAB’S Online Retail Index, selling online in Australia is looking more favourable than ever before. There was a 50.4% increase in online sales in June 2020 compared to June 2019, despite in-store restrictions easing in many parts of Australia. In late July this year, Australia Post also reported that Victoria had its biggest week for online shopping in history. The sales were up by 161% from the same week last year in Victoria, while national online shopping was up 90%. These statistics tell us that online channels are now where your centre and its tenants need to be.

Preserving the shopping centres experience is important for shopping centre managers. However, we need to keep shoppers and staff safe during these times, so it is important centres adapt digital based services like online ordering. Introducing services like click & collect, delivery and gift vouchers are some simple options that can be easily implemented.

2) Use social media to update customers and increase brand awareness

Use your social media pages to update customers on changes to tenant trading hours and operations. Social media is also great to build brand awareness and keep your centre top-of-mind amongst customers.

We Are Creative and Hootsuite produced a report earlier this year which revealed that there has been a 33% increase in the amount of time Australians spend on social media (July 2020). We recommend shopping centres take advantage of these increased levels of social media traffic and post content that promotes their tenants in lieu of in-centre activations.

3) Invest in Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising

If you have some extra cash in your budget from cancelled physical activations, a great way to reallocate your budget is investing in pay per click (PPC) advertising. PPC ads can help expose your centre to new audiences and increase buyer potential. Investing in advertising during difficult times can also strengthen customer confidence in your centre, giving you an advantage over competitors.

With Facebook and Instagram advertising, you can use geographic, demographic and interest-based targeting to ensure your shopping centre ads are being seen by your target audience. These ads are highly cost effective when targeted well.

At Redsteps, we have found that ‘boosting’ Facebook posts on shopping centre pages we manage, dramatically increases customer reach and engagement. Our results have shown that boosting posts can increase reactions by up to 260% and comments by 33%.

4) Use email campaigns to keep customers in the know

Email campaigns are a great way to directly communicate with shoppers about changes to opening times, new tenants and special offers. They are also a great tool for improving brand awareness of your centre’s retailers.

As customers are relying more on digital platforms to find information while COVID-19 continues to impact our lives, Redsteps has seen a 28% increase in email open rates since social distancing restrictions were introduced (March – August 2020 compared to the same time in 2019). Click through rates have also increased by 8%, demonstrating that consumers have become more engaged with email campaigns throughout the year.

Additionally, new research undertaken by Validity Inc. into Australia’s retail sector supports that email marketing is the way to go right now. Email has been responsible for driving 18.9% of traffic on retail sites in Australia, a 12% increase from August 2019. Validity Inc.’s research also reveals that email signups have increased by 80% this year, showing customer willingness to receive direct communication from retail stores. It is evident that consumers are now more receptive than ever to email communication, so now is the time to be using email to connect with customers!

5) Grow your email database with competitions

Before you start creating email campaigns, you need to build your database. Competitions are a great way to gain new email subscribers. Ask customers via your website, social media or in-store entry forms to provide their email address to enter the draw to win a prize (remember to disclose that you will be using their email for marketing purposes!).

6) Keep your website up to date

Regularly updating your website with the latest tenant information is essential right now. It can be incredibly frustrating for consumers if they visit a website and are fed out-of-date information. We have seen a 90% increase in shopping centre website visits as a result of COVID-19 (July 2020 compared to 2019). This tells us that customers are relying on centre websites to get the latest information on changes to trading hours, closed retailers and social distancing policies.

With all the uncertainty, people need to be able to access information, guidance, and support, so keep your site up-to-date and show you care – for your customers, for your employees and for the community within which you operate.

7) Improve the online customer experience

2020 has not been the best year for retail. We cannot avoid the consequences that this year has brought us, but we can control how we react to this situation. While we have been forced into redefining the customer experience, it has given us the opportunity to invent. We can develop new ways we strengthen the relationship between people and brands through COVID-19 and beyond.

According to PwC’s research, customers greatly value good customer experience in both offline and online settings. Good customer service has allowed businesses around the world to add an average of 16% more to the selling price of their products and services without losing their customers. Customers who felt that they were getting a good service were more loyal to the brand in addition to paying the premium price. We cannot underestimate the power of good customer service, and it goes beyond having a friendly face behind the counter.

We can improve the online customer experience in a few ways:

  • Install an instant messenger tool on your website so customers can easily ask questions
  • Set up FAQ responses on Facebook Messenger so customers aren’t left waiting for answers
  • List tenants’ popular products with prices and other sought-after information on the shopping centre website so customers can browse all the tenants on one site


8) Introduce your retailers to digital marketing

We often find that tenants aren’t utilising digital platforms to advertise their business. While retail is having a quiet period, it is a great time to encourage tenants to work on building their digital presence.

  • Do they have a website?
  • Do they have a social media page?
  • Do they have a Google My Business Listing?

These are our top three must haves when it comes to creating a digital presence. This is where customers will go to find information about the business. If they’re lacking a digital presence, suggest they start with these!

9) Engage an external marketing agency

Using an external marketing agency can help to get your tenants more actively involved with marketing activities. Often, we have found that tenants feel more comfortable with calls coming from an external agency. Since they know that the call from the agency will be about activities that support them, rather than about rent or other leasing issues, they are more engaged with communication around marketing activities.

External marketing agencies also have invaluable experience from the multitude of businesses they work with. They have in-built processes for dealing with a variety of issues or scenarios and know which response works best. The experience these external marketing teams hold allows them to quickly grasp the trends in the market. They can recognise the opportunities these trends bring and direct your centre on the best way to take advantage of these opportunities.

Redsteps often works as the marketing department for shopping centres. For one Victorian centre that we began working with in 2019, we saw a 161% increase in digital following after the first month we took over their ongoing marketing. Less than a year later, we have grown their digital following by a further 289%. This digital presence has proven to be crucial to the centre as all communication with customers throughout the pandemic has taken place online. Without their online following, shoppers would not have been aware of which stores were still trading. Redsteps was able to achieve these fantastic results for the centre as our team are made up of digital marketing and retail marketing experts. Our team have been working with shopping centres for over 18 years and know what it takes to get results.

10) Offer a gift with purchase

Where seasonal holidays might have been used to run activations and events, COVID-19 has required us to update what an in-centre marketing activation entails. Instead of bringing large groups to small spaces, an alternative is to offer a gift with purchase. Gifting books or small toys for children with a purchase is proving a popular strategy at the moment.

As Christmas creeps up on us, you’re probably trying to find a new way to celebrate and bring some festive spirit to your centre. Santa might not be allowed to have children sit on his lap anymore, but he can still roam the centre and allow children to have their picture taken near him. Alternatively, 3D photo backdrops can be a fun way to allow customers to interact and share their experience in-centre while practicing social distancing.

Some centres are turning to online experiences to engage their customers and provide a positive brand experience. You could try running online competitions or virtual events that feature some of your tenant’s products. Digital activations are great for increasing brand awareness and keeping customers engaged with your centre.


Casey May is the Director of Redsteps Consulting and has been specialising in retail marketing for over 18 years. Casey’s experience has gifted her with solid understanding of the shopping centre industry which she uses to create innovative shopping centre campaigns that engage with local consumers. Prior to launching Redsteps, Casey worked as a marketing manager within centre management teams including Colonial First State Global Asset Management (now Vicinity Centres). Casey and the team at Redsteps are passionate about driving foot traffic into shopping centres and retail environments through a range of integrated marketing activities including events and activations, sales promotions, social media, digital and print advertising, website management and SEO.

Casey headshot, Redsteps Marketing Director