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Re-Imagining The Retail Landscape – How Mall Brands Can Stay Meaningful Amidst The Pandemic

Due to the quarantine and social distancing needs, there is an obvious decline in foot traffic and frequency in visiting malls these days

Photo by Pink Mean from Pexels

By, Germaine A. Reyes and Lorenzo D. Reyes

The pandemic has certainly accelerated digital adoption and has left some brick-and-mortar shops including its  merchants needing to recover from purchase shifts to e-commerce brands and other channels. Due to the  quarantine and social distancing needs, there is an obvious decline in foot traffic and frequency in visiting malls these  days and purchase of food, non-food and other items have shifted to either e-commerce brands and/or other  channels such as direct-to-consumer-from-supplier channel and other means. The challenge therefore is how malls  and other retail shops can pivot to capture these behavioral changes while at the same time staying relevant to and  meaningful to the consumers these days? 

There are insights gleaned from the analysis made by Synergy Market Research + Strategic Consultancy 1 on data  culled from the following studies: 

  • COVID-19 Behavior Tracker 2 of the Imperial College London in collaboration with YouGov 3, comparing PH to other ASEAN countries
  • YouGov’s Consumer Monitor Tracker (CMT) and Economic Recovery Monitor (ERM) 4
  • YouGov Profiles 5 – one of the syndicated solutions offered by YouGov. 

Filipinos from the start of the quarantine have been fearful about COVID-19 and this has continued to remain high  in the Philippines (>80%). Possibly, it is because of fear for other family members and friends (more than personal  safety) – the thought of having a family member suffer from coronavirus probably is more aggravating than the  thought of personally contracting this (more stressful among the millennial and younger generations per other  studies analyzed6). [See Figures 1-2]. 

Of the many situations that the government is undertaking or could undertake for the COVID situation, it is the cancellation of hospital care procedures that people will be the least supportive of IF the government will impose stopping these routine hospital procedures. This implies that people believe in providing health care for all patients, not just those that have contracted COVID. [See Figure 3] The people would most probably want to be assured that care for other ailments and health needs need to happen and should be part of priority of the government. 

However, what may be worrisome is that a substantial number of people (14%, which is a significant absolute number when projected to total population) have missed their vaccinations (and possibly other check-up needs). They are 17 years of age and older. [See Figure 4]. Main reason for missing their vaccinations is that they fear contracting COVID in the health clinics (or hospitals) that they will go to and while in transit, i.e., in public transport to get to the clinics. [See Figure 5]. 

Meanwhile, from a purchase behavior standpoint, during this pandemic, there is a significant overlap seen among those who have spent more money offline during COVID-19 who also tended to spend more online as well. This indicates that almost all who are higher offline spenders in recent times are able and ready online buyers as well as only 8% of these higher offline spenders do not buy anything online. [See Figure 6].

The higher-spending-offline-and-online buyers appear to be skewed to males who probably have been thrust into  grocery and other types of shopping but they also tended to be younger and in the mid-to-high income levels. They  appear to be flexible buyers as they seem to enjoy doing both offline and online buying. They are careful though in  making big purchases and are attuned to finance-based messaging/news. THEY could serve as a model for others to follow.

Given the above mentioned analysis and insights gleaned from YouGov surveys, it is apparent that people want  continuity in healthcare services aside from focus on Covid care. The private companies can help in this regard.  There are also emerging needs that can already be addressed. Here are some recommendations that mall  brands – including its merchants, wherever relevant – can undertake:  

1. For malls with extensive branch networks, can consider converting some spaces and attract more clinics  and other health-and-wellness services to locate in their malls, i.e., those for non-COVID-related procedures  such as vaccinations and simple out-patient procedures.  

  • Being in a non-hospital environment can be less threatening to the psyche of patients 
  • If a mall has several branches, travel time could be lesser/shorter for many who are near malls  especially since there has been a proliferation of branches for some mall brands in each of the cities in  Metro Manila. This enables such clinics to be within ‘arms reach’ of many Filipinos so that quality of life can be addressed while in this pandemic. It likewise addresses reducing the fear of catching COVID while  in public transportation as some locations may be close enough that commuting might not be  necessary.
  • This will serve as traffic ‘drawers’ for the mall for other services and product purchases that are  considered as essential these days among those who visit for these health continuity purposes.
  • This will likewise portray mall brands to be caring and understanding of consumer needs especially  these days. 

2. Pre-pandemic, there are already some brands in countries like the US offering grocery delivery convenience through a roving van. Can introduce roving vans that either go from city to city OR dedicate a roving van per city and load these with basic necessities (food/non-food) to serve as mobile supermarkets/grocery-on-wheels. Prioritize areas that are not highly accessible or near the company’s mall or supermarket – to  extend the reach of the brand. This will minimize:

  • people’s being out for a long time,
  • transit time
  • fare.

Can also have a different roving van for other favorite items or indulgences (beverages on-the-go or other treats that are food/non-food) for upscale locations. Make the van hygienic, safe and  picture-ready to also help spread the word around this. Can partner with LGUs & barangays for these. 

3. Considering that high offline spenders tend to also shop online, it may be high time to introduce the  following: Virtual shopping – to expand the online supermarket or even introduce a “virtual-video” supermarket  (where the shopper can see visuals of actual supermarket shelves) or other essential/non-essential  shopping experience to bring the mall ‘nearer’ to its customers 

  • Could introduce a tour to help customers browse and choose items from the confines of their  homes 
  • Could also introduce a virtual “super” mall online, where shoppers may purchase from any  mall merchant anywhere in the country, but would only need 1 mall brand shopping cart. This  will provide ease for online shoppers as they would no longer be restricted to nearby malls to  purchase online from. The company’s mall merchants can use the physical stores as “localized  warehouses” and pick-up points for delivery.  
  • Mall brand can either provide its own delivery service for online mall purchases or leverage its  access to thousands of merchants (and restaurants/food stalls) into affordable delivery rates  from existing logistics/delivery providers. 

An e-commerce type of app that showcases mall merchants’ good finds but will have the mall brand’s  shopping experience into this – ie., like having a mall experience. The mall brand can populate the app  with non-supermarket merchants to provide already a ready & easy online selling experience for  merchants that customers may have missed during the pandemic.  

  • Position such app as the app for supermarket items as e-commerce apps may be seen as an  app for non-supermarket items. 
  • Ensure that the shopping experience is engaging, provide the shoppers a sense of discovery  and/or fun and create a sense of pride and belonging. 

There’s opportunity during these uncertain times for a mall brand to step up and spearhead some private-sector-led  initiatives to bring back a sense of normalcy to people’s lives through the abovementioned recommendations. In the process, the malls’ merchants are hoped to also win the hearts of the consumers. These are hoped to put the  mall brand at the top of people’s minds and included in their daily lives when the economy fully re-opens.  

For more information about the study and the various surveys available; other products/solutions of YouGov; and  consultation for building meaningful brands please email info@synergy.ph

1 Synergy Market Research + Strategic Consultancy provided the analysis, conclusions and recommendations for  these sets of data. Synergy is a Philippine-based management consulting and market research company that  has been in the market for over 20 years providing evidence-based strategies from research and data analytics to  top 1,000 corporations, Fortune 500 companies and SMEs. Synergy is the exclusive partner of YouGov in the  Philippines. Synergy has been in the business of consumer insighting to build meaningful brands.

2 COVID-19 Behavior Tracker study covered 29 countries, including the Philippines and other ASEAN countries.  Surveys are conducted every two weeks via YouGov’s online platform and started at the end of March/1st week of April  and collected every 2 weeks. Latest data is on the week of September 28, and will run till November 2020 

3 YouGov is an international research data and analytics group, with a proprietary consumer panel of over 9.6  million people worldwide. 

4 The CMT and ERM were conducted weekly, offering relevant metrics measured during COVID-19 situations across  global markets such as Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, among others. Surveys were conducted  weekly via YouGov’s online platform and for 8 weeks or from 4th May to 28th June 2020, with a total PH  respondents of n=8,171 across all 8 weeks. 

5 Profiles is a proprietary planning tool of YouGov. It allows target audience segmentation with unrivalled  granularity, with thousands of variables from demographics to attitudes, lifestyle & media habits, brand usage  and more. Data collection is done regularly per respondent and uploaded/updated every week in YouGov’s  platform. 6 Refer to report made by Synergy on “COVID 19 Pandemic: Impact on Filipino Millennials (and Mental Health)” in Synergy Market Research + Strategic Consultancy’s YouTube account.

Germaine A. Reyes is the CEO/President of Synergy Market Research + Strategic Consultancy. Lorenzo D. Reyes is the COO, Synergy Market Research + Strategic Consultancy

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