The number of shopping centers and merchants that benefit from public exposure via Facebook and other social media has increased largely because the popularity of these websites has spread to consumers of all ages.
Shopping centers increasingly are plugging into social media as more consumers use the Internet to choose the stores and restaurants they visit.
More than the patronage of young consumers raised in the age of the Internet is at stake.
“When you look at where the growth is for Facebook right now, it’s actually the 55-plus demographic that is growing the fastest,” said Enrique Kaufer, vice president of marketing at Woolbright Development, a Boca Raton-based owner of shopping centers.
Woolbright has created Facebook pages for eight of its 25 shopping centers to generate additional customer traffic. One of the eight, the Village Commons in West Palm Beach, relied mainly on social media to attract thousands in early September to an event at the shopping center featuring gourmet food trucks.
“We had about 4,000 people,” Kaufer said in a telephone interview one day after the food-truck event, “and on Facebook this morning, people already are commenting and giving us feedback on the event.”
The number of U.S. shopping centers using social media nearly doubled from the first quarter of 2010 to the first quarter of 2011, market research firm Alexander Babbage reported. The Atlanta-based firm reported extensive use of social media by leading shopping center landlords including General Growth Properties, owner of Miami’s Bayside Marketplace; Simon Property Group, operator of Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise; Glimcher Realty and Macerich.
Alexander Babbage found that 56 percent of all shopping centers in the United States — including Bayside and Sawgrass Mills — were on Facebook as of this year’s first quarter and 46 percent were on Twitter, another industry leader in social media. Shopping centers using social media averaged 2,876 “likes” from Facebook users and 444 followers on Twitter during the quarter.
Cost savings is a major motivator. Kaufer said that for special shopping-center events like the one in West Palm Beach featuring food trucks, “we do a lot of the promotion through social media instead of traditional media. If we try to do the advertising for the event through newspapers or radio, it gets very expensive.”
While shopping centers still make heavy use of print and broadcast advertising, more are marketing themselves through social media not only to attract more customers but also to learn more about them. A free function called Facebook Insights, for example, allows commercial account holders to obtain demographic information about the people whom their Facebook pages attract. Consumer-written reviews, recommendations, questions and complaints on social media websites also provide information valuable to shopping center owners.
“There is lots of research showing that consumers increasingly are turning away from mass-market advertising and toward each other as the more trusted and reliable sources of information that leads to a shopping decision,” said Ronald Stack, co-founder and chief operating officer of Zavee, which runs customer loyalty programs online for retailers. The Boca Raton company operates a website called Zavee.com and provides consumers with free online access to discounts and other perks from merchants in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“We have national ambition,” Stack said. “We are in discussions to enter markets outside South Florida. I can’t be more specific than that.”
Individual merchants hire Zavee to run customer loyalty programs that incorporate the elements of so-called daily deal websites, including those operated by industry leaders Groupon and Living Social. Zavee’s customer loyalty program for retail business owners allows them to offer one-time discounts as well as ongoing discounts to customers.
“Groupon and Living Social are not set up to do that. It’s not part of their business model,” Stack said. Because of Zavee’s focus on helping retailers generate repeat business, “we like to say we’re an ‘everyday’ deal and not a ‘daily’ deal. … So, in that sense, we’re not competing with Groupon. If Groupon gets them in the door, that’s wonderful. Our job is to help the merchant keep them coming back.”
Zavee also encourages consumers to post written comments on its website about recent purchases with Zavee coupons. To post comments on the website, individuals must submit a personal debit-card or credit-card number in advance for identification purposes, one of the requirements of getting a free Zavee membership. As a result, “you don’t have the problem of competitors writing negative reviews and public relations people writing overly glowing reviews,” Stack said.
Developers Diversified Realty, owner of the Shops at Midtown Miami, is gaining customer traffic there by posting discount offers and promoting special events on the shopping center’s Facebook page. For example, a restaurant at the shopping center called Hurricane Grill & Wings recently drew a bigger-than-normal crowd to celebrate its one-year anniversary, serving complimentary beer to adult patrons with printouts of a coupon posted online.
“They had over 800 people come into the Hurricane over what was an eight-hour promotion,” said Lenor Ryan, general manager of the Shops at Midtown, located just north of downtown Miami. “It worked, and they didn’t have to advertise it anywhere but on social media.”
Promotion of the Shops at Midtown in social media is “a complement” to advertising through traditional print and broadcast media, Ryan said, but the marketing mix may shift because “definitely for us, social media is so much more cost-effective. It gets the word out really fast, and you see a response, so it’s a quick benefit for us.”
Not all marketing by shopping center owners is well suited for social media, though. In business-to-business marketing, landlords focus on leasing space to retail tenants, and few rely on social media to do so.
The use of social media to lease store space “has been kind of slow-moving. … A lot of social media is just that, social, and not very professional,” said Gary Broidis, who runs The Retail Bus Tour in Boca Raton. The business conducts guided, one-day bus tours of about 40 area shopping centers per trip for property owners, real estate agents and merchants.
“I’m a big fan of LinkedIn,” Broidis said, referring to the social media website that fosters professional relationships. “My own personal opinion is Facebook is more of a social gathering place.”
Get the latest industry news and information from CRE-sources delivered right to your email inbox! And we promise…no more than one email each morning.
And we promise…no more than one email each morning.