4 June 2020

Long Live Retail

by Jacey Bunker

With the welcome news that non-essential shops can open in the UK from 15th June, the retail industry breathed a sigh of relief. But as retail destinations get ready to welcome customers back, it certainly won’t be business as usual. The threat of COVID-19 remains and, with social distancing still in play, there’s lots to think about.

With over 25 years’ retail marketing experience, we’ve helped our clients face challenges before, be it a recession or the impact of the growth of ecommerce. Whilst we don’t have a crystal ball, we are lucky to work with schemes across the globe, which has afforded us the opportunity to take some initial learnings from destinations that we have already reopened. Today, we share our top tips for a successful reopening.

Safety first

With some 48% of Brits still very scared that they will contract CoronaVirus¹ it’s vital that schemes clearly communicate how they will minimise the risk to their visitors and help to keep people safe. As well as standard measures such as managed queuing and enhanced hygiene, schemes like Docks Bruxsel in Belgium have focused on unique features that will provide relief and assurance for visitors such as wide open spaces and a large glass roof, which opens to increase natural ventilation.

Finding the right tone is critical – we want to reassure and not alarm would-be shoppers. But taking the time to clearly communicate the measures being taken to keep people safe, whilst celebrating the joy of bringing people back together will demonstrate a commitment to a scheme’s community and will win it fans in the long run.


Embrace technology

We’ve all benefited from technology during the pandemic, which has helped us stay connected with friends and family and has helped some businesses to continue to trade. And, suffice to say, technology will continue to play an important part as we emerge from lockdown. Schemes across the globe are utilising technology to help them monitor footfall, alerting management teams to growing areas of congestion so security staff can be deployed to manage traffic.

These platforms were initially deployed as a way to learn about customer behaviour but have now been utilised to help manage the flow safely around schemes. Smart destinations will continue to utilise this tech once the threat of COVID-19 has subsided to continue to develop learnings, analyse customer actions and to enhance the customer journey.



There’s never been more of a need for collaboration between retailers and landlords. Schemes like ICON Outlet have continued to have weekly check ins with store managers throughout The O2’s closure and have very much made the brands a part of the reopening process. As the marketing machine gears back up, it is critical onsite teams work together with their tenants to identify and promote reasons to visit (safely).

Adapting to consumer needs

As well being conscious of safety fears, retail destinations need to revisit their tactical campaigns through a COVID-19 lens. Consumer behaviour has changed, and the seasonal retail calendar is not necessarily the same. With foreign holidays off the agenda for the immediate future, the traditional holiday shop is sure to be impacted.

Conversely, as people spend more time at home, we’ve seen spend on home & garden, DIY and hobbies increase. Some 54% of people intend to continue to spend in this area and a further 20% aim to increase the amount of DIY they are doing.² It’s a trend that Swedish shopping destination Bromma Blocks has already harnessed with a new campaign focused on promoting homes & gardens retailers, which actually saw an increase in the number of visitors throughout April.

Take it slowly

It’s so important to get the reopening of any scheme right, so landlords shouldn’t be afraid of a phased reopening. A soft opening allows schemes the chance to stress test the safety measures they have put in place and to get a sense for the appetite to visit from the local community.

Marketing support can also be phased with an immediate focus on safety and information communications first, perhaps to a scheme’s most engaged fans, and larger welcome back campaigns ready to roll out when a fuller offering is available. 

Keep the faith

Whilst the idea of reopening with so many new considerations and a nervous public may feel daunting to a scheme, it’s important to remain upbeat. In China, footfall to shopping malls is now back up to 70% of pre-pandemic traffic³ and in Belgium, Docks Bruxsel has seen 62% of pre-pandemic visitation during the first week of its soft opening.

There are green shoots for retail. And the schemes that will go on to success are the ones that will invest in really understanding their customers and catchment, being adaptable and embracing new ideas.



¹YouGov consumer tracker, 30 May 2020

² Rare Consulting research, 21st May 2020

³Morgan Stanley, 4th May 2020

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