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Marketing for Shopping Malls

A marketing guide for large-scale retailers

Everything has changed since the firsts shopping centres opened in the 1980s in Spain. Forty years later, the sector has grown to add more than 500 shopping centres and retail parks, and has evolved from the initial model, based in a hypermarket, to the new conception of shopping centres that has been noticed in recent years, a space that goes beyond the pure commercial transaction.

How this transformation and the emergence of online shopping change the marketing strategies of shopping centres? That is what we are going to analyse. Let’s start.

Guía de marketing de centros comerciales
A marketing guide for shopping malls

Today’s shopping malls have essentially become centres designed to satisfy visitors’ leisure requirements. In a world where retail formats are constantly being reinvented, nobody can be sure how long these types of spaces will remain active, nor where the sector is heading in the future.

Shopping centres and malls are a global business that is basically controlled by investment funds and large multinationals with converging interests. They normally operate in the real estate sector, as the sole value attributable to retail space was its location in relation to size and territory.

For many years, the key concern of shopping mall owners was to lease their premises: a search for retailers and franchisees that would hang their signs in their spaces.

However, in recent decades the goalposts have moved: the rapid growth of online shopping has forced shopping mall owners to seek ways of increasing traffic to their spaces, which often implies a considerable financial outlay.

Shopping mall managers and their marketing staff are responsible for handling these large amounts of money, faced with the challenge of obtaining measurable results in terms of traffic flows.

This is a complex task, as they must ensure that a single action is not only capable of improving consumers’ experience in the centre, but also of satisfying the metric demands set by the owners and executive teams.

Marketing challenges for shopping malls

Asset management, new promotions and business acquisitions are a world away from the everyday business of running a shopping mall, which is the responsibility of the managers, their assistants and marketing teams. Nor do these tasks fall to those in charge of leasing the available premises, building work and alterations or major concept changes, which are normally in the hands of the owners themselves, or, in their absence, the executive teams. It’s a completely different league.

Shopping mall managers daily challenge is traffic flow. Each new day is a whole new ball game in terms of the challenges they will encounter in the walkways. Yet in addition to the major responsibilities involved in attracting customers, handling relations with operators and coordinating the security, maintenance and cleaning teams, they must also address the question of marketing. So what are the challenges they face in this area?

Marketing challenges for shopping malls
New competitors - Shopping malls

New competitors

Shopping malls no longer merely compete with other centres or high street stores in large cities. Now there are new adversaries, namely online shopping, food delivery platforms and on demand television services. In fact, the rapid rise of online shopping and transactions is now the greatest threat to shopping malls and smaller stores. Fighting this trend is futile: the solution lies in adapting and coming up with ideas that will minimise the impact.

Differentiation and budget - Shopping malls

Differentiation and budget

Differentiation and optimum use of the budget assigned ‘from the top’ are the major changes facing anyone responsible for retail marketing, whilst complying with the mantra that shopping malls are not just places where people go to purchase items. Indeed, now they are defined as spaces that provide entertainment and services that must deliver experiences that are radically different from those consumers have at home, where they can shop online, choose what they wish to watch on television and order food from their favourite restaurant via a mobile app.

The disruption of the traditional shopping mall has meant that there is still no clear model for success. The same is true of other sectors, such as cars, energy or industry. A shopping mall is more than a place to buy items; it has to be a meeting point for society. The question lies in how the management team of a particular shopping mall can achieve this.

Guía de marketing de centros comerciales

The first thing is to do away with the myth that marketing can be divided into online and offline. Consumers shop online and offline and there is only one image to get across, and therefore applying a multichannel strategy is the only way of making an impact. Striking promotional actions that attract clients to stores is no longer enough; what’s needed now is to integrate the full range of digital tools into the corporate marketing strategy in order to obtain a full insight into our visitors and offer them an experience tailored to their shopping habits and tastes. The list of possible questions is endless:

  • How old are they?
  • Who accompanies them on their visit?
  • When do they visit?
  • How do they keep up-to-date with our latest news?
  • What type of services do they most appreciate?
  • What type of events and activities would they like us to organise?

Some companies are already introducing pilot systems for marketing intelligence, big data and data processing in order to meet these challenges. Major investments targeting groups that are implemented by the largest consultancy firms.

Adapting shopping malls to the new trends in digital marketing

However, most of the companies that manage shopping malls in Spain have still not latched on to these trends, and it is up to the marketing managers of these centres to collect and take advantage of vast amounts of customer data. The everyday marketing challenges facing shopping malls are more a question of individual, ongoing adaptation. All too often, the marketing managers of these centres have to go into battle alone, practically unarmed.

In the light of this scenario, there are four key issues at stake in term of keeping up-to-date with the latest trends in digital marketing:

Tools that don’t catch on

Many of the initially innovative tools applied by the executive management teams have failed to catch on among their customers. Apps are a particular case in point, a fad that is now outdated; loyalty cards that are used by less than 20% of their customers, or campaigns based on elements such as beacons or geolocation, which failed to be fully implemented.

Current trends are centred on the application of CRM systems for segmented communication closely linked to customers. This is achieved by optimising social media profiles, integrating virtual assistants or monitoring visitor satisfactions with the mall’s services through online surveys that send out instant alerts when they detect that things are not working as they should.

Keeping up-to-date

Market innovations occur at breakneck speed, and as a result mall managers are unable to obtain an in-depth understanding of the full range of solutions before others appear. The truth is that they are pretty much on their own when it comes to drawing up an annual marketing plan based on innovative and attractive ideas that not only stick to the available budget, but are also feasible and tie in with the online and offline environments.

The agencies’ role

In this scenario, communication and marketing agencies play a vital role in assisting shopping mall managers and their teams. Having a group of professionals behind you is particularly useful, not only for keeping up-to-date with all the latest marketing innovations, but also when designing and applying new and appealing actions that will boost traffic and contribute to bringing together online and offline environments.

Getting to know shopping mall consumers

The behaviour of today’s consumer is radically different from that of just ten years ago. Easy and affordable access to the Internet via mobile devices has revolutionised shopping habits.

Below are the four key characteristics that define their behaviour:

Enjoying the experience

New consumers are looking for experiences as well as the mere acquisition of goods. The traditional transactions involved in acquiring products or services is easier online. However, digital environments are unable to generate the sensation of “having enjoyed an experience”, which is why consumers are eager to purchase experiences and demand courses in nutrition and cookery, health and wellbeing, or even makeup workshops.

Being part of something​

Consumers no longer need to leave their homes to shop; they do so in order to interact with society and to generate a sense of belonging. In this sense, malls should focus less on the notion of ‘shopping’ and more on their function as centres for socialising and culture. In line with this, marketing actions should be tailored towards attracting the general public through musical, artistic and social events.


Today’s customers, particularly the younger segments, are beginning to demand social commitment as well as low prices. As a result, shopping malls have also begun to centre their attention on corporate social responsibility, launching initiatives related to responsible consumption, environmental impact, health and proximity.


Consumers are beginning to prioritise personalisation over standardisation. The fast fashion retail giants continue to be the driving forces for shopping malls, but it is the small operators, with their exclusive and unique offers that are obtaining the best results. Popup stores selling differentiated products for a short period of time, are one of the possible options.

Shopping mall consumers

Innovative shopping malls are incorporating value elements intended to turn them into a new social pole for cities. The actions include promoting concerts or festivals, art exhibitions, encounters, craft fairs, farmers’ markets, popup stores, kiosks and play areas, etc.

Shopping mall management teams often locate these actions in vacant premises or communal areas displaying low heat map levels. The objective is clear: to generate levels of leisure and entertainment that could never be achieved online.

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The keys to a successful digital marketing strategy

Shopping mall operators seek to provide shoppers with a special experience by introducing new and innovative stores or experiences. In many cases, traffic will be generated by the classic ‘driving forces’ (large supermarkets, major fast fashion retailers, cinemas, etc.), although there are always alternatives whereby an effective digital marketing strategy will impact on shopping mall traffic and digital engagement levels.

What follows are just a few ideas that will contribute to improving the results of your mall’s digital marketing campaigns:

Make it fun

Failing to engage the target market is the worst mistake of any marketing strategy. Shopping malls need to reach out to their customers and connect with them through emotions, experiences and becoming part of their leisure and entertainment choices. This requires informal communication based on everyday language, whilst adapting the tone in keeping with the shopping mall’s style.

Promotions and prize draws

Social media interaction is on the rise and advertising works well when communicating prize draws, free gifts and promotions. A good marketing agency will know what to give away, how to go about it and who to target. What are the hottest trends? Just one expensive prize or lots of smaller ones?

Something for everyone

Traffic to shopping malls is always a mix, and therefore targeting a very specific market is not overly important. Unless there is a highly specific promotion or event targeting one of the shopping mall’s key segments, the best policy is to try to capture everyone’s attention.

Big news, online

Digital tools are always the best way of communicating news such as store openings, sales or the arrival of new collections. Generating a sense of anticipation and making followers feel that they are the first to receive the latest news will guarantee positive online reactions.

An online strategy to attract and retain visitors to a shopping mall

Shopping malls are facing growing competition. Shopping online is on the rise, and therefore coming up with and altering offers is a regular, ongoing task. Shopping malls must ensure that their marketing strategy evolves in order to compete for consumers’ preferences, and in this sense, content marketing and social media may turn out to be crucial tools.

Content marketing

In the shopping mall sector, content is an ideal way of securing consumer loyalty as well as attracting new visitors. But what kind of content should shopping malls provide? The answer is clear: store-related content based on consumer offers. Effective digital marketing strategies have to be able to help plan purchases.

Running a blog with tips on the perfect family BBQ, last minute gift ideas for Mother’s Day or how to carry off the latest IT-girls trend is all very well, but including audio-visual content in the form of live social media broadcasts is more likely to get you noticed.

In order to boost engagement levels, content has to be relevant, exciting and shareable.

Social media

Social media have really taken off in recent years. Indeed, they are an excellent free platform for promoting a brand. However, they also have their downside. Dissatisfied customers may share their experiences, and therefore reactions may not always be positive. Yet with the right communication strategy and a team with experience in combating these negative comments, it is possible to turn this situation around.

Consumers expect instant answers and solutions. Being able to deliver them is proof of excellent customer service and consumer loyalty. Response levels can be measured and made public by social media such as Facebook. It is clear that consumers’ already high expectations are growing, and therefore shopping malls everywhere have to be able to react fast and efficiently.

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Events for shopping malls

Can you picture a performance by the Cirque du Soleil in your shopping mall? Or an exhibition featuring the most famous MotoGP bikes of the last ten years? There are shopping malls in the Persian Gulf, Malaysia, China or Indonesia where setting up F1 race tracks, ski slopes or performances by world famous artists are regular occurrences that draw the wealthiest customers to their luxury stores.

It is clear that the challenge facing shopping malls is to offer exciting, first class quality entertainment, yet that at the same time is in line with the budget of the ‘average’ Spanish shopping centre. Attempting to set up a good exhibition, workshop or live event requires planning, a strategy and a team of professionals capable of making things happen.

However, before embarking on such actions, it is important to identify the shopping centre’s commercial mix and take time to gain an insight into consumer demographics, studying the interests and needs that must be met. What’s more, the events should also generate satisfaction among retailers and operators. It is therefore advisable to work closely with them in order to create campaigns and events that will produce notoriety, traffic to stores and partnerships that will contribute value to their products.

How about organising a Carnival makeup workshop in collaboration with the mall’s hairdressing salon? The operator provides the materials and staff in return for brand recognition. Or a Zumba session in the shopping mall given by the fitness centre monitors? Or a fair featuring food products organised jointly with the supermarket?

Events for shopping malls

From a management perspective, the goals of the events held in shopping malls are clear, and must always be uppermost in our minds:

Brand awareness and notoriety

A goal that is common to digital environments, media and word-of-mouth marketing.

Building relationships and security operator loyalty

Events differentiate operators from stores in other shopping malls in their area.

Increase visitor traffic flows to the mall

Busier walkways will boost sales, making retail leases sustainable.

Customer relations and consistent marketing messages

Generally speaking, shopping mall users and customers do not have a spokesperson to keep them up-to-date or an interlocutor they can talk to.

Beyond the occasional report in local media or presentation by the shopping mall manager, direct customer communication is limited to two options:

Customer service / Information desks

Small and medium size shopping malls do not offer this service. The information desk must be staffed by experts in customer service, capable of assuming the responsibilities involved and delivering effective solutions.

Social media

Digital channels are another key form of communication with shopping mall users. Keeping social media channels active and maintaining an ongoing dialogue is essential in order to guarantee customer satisfaction.

Customer relations and consistent marketing messages - Shopping malls

Another crucial aspect is to ensure that the same message is transmitted on all platforms. The brand must always send out the same message, regardless of where consumers may be looking.

The tone of the shopping mall’s online communication is perceived in every blog post, Instagram photo and Facebook text. Using the right language for each shopping centre is a complex task, because there is a big difference between communications from a shopping mall in a large city targeting customers with a high purchasing power and those focused on young people in the suburbs or target markets in rural settings.

What’s more, each age group has its own favourite digital tool. Younger, more dynamic segments use Instagram on their mobile phones, whilst the adult population prefers Facebook. That’s why it is so important to entrust your digital communication to the professionals, rather than simply lumping it all together.

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Do shopping malls really need a marketing strategy?

They certainly do; and the scope and flexibility of these marketing strategies is growing rapidly. The number of new technologies and platforms means that it is harder than ever to keep up with the latest marketing strategies. The need to detect and take advantage of opportunities, selecting and integrating the right technologies into the strategies in place is crucial in order to reach an increasingly demanding public.

There is a rapidly growing need for people with the capacity to innovate and sector know-how, as well as communication agencies capable of formulating and shaping action plans. Shopping mall managers seeking success require a solid and constantly evolving strategy and to surround themselves with the people capable of putting it into place.

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