shopping center white ceiling blog

In an age when shopping centers are trying to transform their properties into experience destinations, it’s more important than ever to understand who your shoppers are and have meaningful, personalized conversations with them.

But unfortunately, many shopping centers continue to find this difficult.

This difficulty isn’t just an inconvenience. It may represent a real barrier towards building the type of experiences that keep your customers coming back in the years to come.

For example, let’s say you’re considering turning a former department store into a fitness center, a hotel, or an apartment complex. Before you make that decision, you’ll want as much information about your shoppers as you can get. And whatever you decide, you’ll want to share this new development with your shoppers as effectively as possible.

Fortunately, there is more technology available than ever before to help your shopping center understand and communicate with your shoppers.

In this article, I’ll discuss why traditional approaches to communicating with shoppers – like broadcast media and manual data collection – are no longer sufficient. We’ll then take a look at how you can use a technology called “WiFi marketing” to solve these challenges.

Broadcast Media Is No Longer Sufficient

Broadcast media, such as television spots, radio ads, billboards, in-store signage, and even some forms of digital advertising all have their place – and they aren’t going away anytime soon. But these methods for reaching shoppers have some serious drawbacks.

You May Not Be Reaching People Frequently Enough

Conventional marketing wisdom says that it takes at least seven impressions for a message to register. That means if you’re relying solely on broadcast media to entice people to your shopping center, it may take a long time (or a big budget) to deliver that many impressions.

Generic Messages Aren’t As Effective

With broadcast media, you typically have to send a few select messages to a very broad audience. But that can lead to wasting much of your advertising budget on reaching the wrong people with the wrong message. After all, who wants to hear about a new store opening or a special event that isn’t relevant to them?

WiFi marketing can deliver more tailored messages than in-store signage

In-store signage can be a great way to deliver impressions, but it doesn’t allow for tailored messaging to different shopper segments. Credit: Digital Display Systems

Broadcast Media Can Be Expensive

Because you have to cast such a wide net, you end up paying to reach a lot of the wrong people. Take billboards, for example – having a single one might cost less, but you’ll need much more coverage for your message to really stick.

Your Customers Expect Personalization

Finally, shoppers increasingly expect brands to understand them better. “Consumers know that brands have all this data on them, and so they expect that companies will use it to build and deepen relationships,” according to Jamie Gutfreund, global CMO at Wunderman. But unless your shopping center serves a very narrow demographic, personalization is nearly impossible without a more sophisticated approach.

No Insights

As if all of these challenges weren’t enough, broadcast advertising suffers from an even greater shortcoming – it’s strictly a one-way communication channel.

However, if you’re not spending equal effort on listening to your shoppers, it will be very difficult to get the data you need in order to personalize your communication and properly inform your decision making.

To solve this issue, some shopping centers have collected customer feedback through manual, hands-on tactics, like paper surveys and paper-and-pencil newsletter signup sheets. But as we’ll see in a moment, these approaches have major drawbacks as well.

Manually Collecting Data Isn’t Without Drawbacks

Trying to connect with shoppers in person isn’t a bad thing to do. Face-to-face conversations are an important part of understanding your customers. The problem, though, is that hands-on data collection doesn’t give you the quantity or quality of data you really need. Here’s why.

Reaching Enough People Can Require A Big Investment

This shouldn’t be a surprise. If you’re relying on your staff (or a consulting group) to track down shoppers, you’ll only talk to a small percentage of visitors. Reaching a sample size that’s large enough to give you meaningful insights requires high effort over a long period of time.

You’re Busy

You and your staff have plenty to do already. Every minute you spend taking surveys on the shopping center floor is another minute you lose from another pressing project.

The Data May Not Fully Represent Your Shoppers

In order to get a truly representative sample, you’d have to collect data throughout each day. But manual data collection is usually only practical on an intermittent basis. Similarly, this practice often takes place only at points of traffic convergence – typically the entrance or exit. Both of these factors mean that despite your best efforts, manual data collection may not provide a complete picture of your visitors.

WiFi marketing can help connect with all types of shoppers

Manually collecting survey data may not capture feedback from your busiest shoppers, like young families. Credit: Alex Bocharov.

Self Selection May Lead to Bias

Finally, manually collected data has a fundamental flaw – it usually only comes from shoppers who have extra time to share feedback. While certain visitors will participate, they are less likely to represent the range of visitors to your shopping center.

Guest WiFi Offers A New Approach

If you’ve used any of these tactics at your own shopping center, these difficulties probably familiar.

Fortunately, despite all the challenges of broadcast media and manual data collection, there is another approach that can help offset these drawbacks: using your existing guest WiFi network to connect with shoppers. Depending on whom you ask, marketers using guest WiFi to connect with shoppers may call the practice different things. Terms like “WiFi marketing”, “WiFi analytics”, or even “social WiFi” usually come up. But for this article, we’ll use “WiFi marketing”.

WiFi marketing works by asking your shoppers to provide specific information in order to join your guest WiFi network. Usually, visitors will provide basic information, like email or phone number – at least to start. But over time, you can build on that data. If your WiFi marketing software is capable of “progressive profiling”, you can ask for new information on subsequent visits. Age, gender, purpose of visit, and other survey questions are all popular choices.

Guest WiFi Provides New Communication Channels

Not only does WiFi marketing help you collect shopper data, it also provides a new marketing channel. It’s simple. After shoppers login to WiFi, you can present them with another message (called a landing page) before they access the Internet itself.

This landing page gives shopping centers an opportunity to present a more personalized message that’s relevant to who the shopper is and what’s happening at the shopping center that day. Of course, collecting phone number and email also allows you to reach more shoppers on those channels as well.

Solving The Shortcomings Of Traditional Tactics

WiFi marketing captive portal

Most WiFi marketing software allows you to capture shopper information through the WiFi captive portal.

WiFi marketing doesn’t just help you create richer profiles of shoppers. It solves some of the fundamental challenges posed by broadcast media and manual data collection.

First, WiFI marketing lets shopping centers connect with far more shoppers than manual surveying allows (at least with a comparable budget). In fact, over time, shopping centers can see 30%+ of shoppers provide contact and demographic information through WiFi marketing.

Secondly, the data you collect will be much more representative of your shoppers as a whole. Remember, with WiFi marketing, you can collect data from a wide spectrum of visitors – not just those who have a few minutes to spare on their way out. WiFi marketing collects data 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That means your responses won’t overly reflect the type of shopper who comes through at a certain time of day.

Third,  WiFi marketing lets you build increasingly accurate profiles of your shoppers over time. This allows you to build distinct shopper segments in your CRM. Now you can quit sending the same message to everyone and instead, tailor your message to each segment. The result: better responses to your marketing campaigns.

Finally, WiFi marketing can cost considerably less than broadcast media or manual survey collection. In other words, you’ll reach far more people than you would with the same budget used on traditional tactics.

Supercharging WiFi Marketing With Location Analytics

Imagine if you could send messages to your shoppers based on where they’re standing. By pairing a technology called “location analytics” with WiFi marketing, some (though certainly not all) WiFi marketing software allows shopping centers to do exactly that.

While a deep dive into the benefits of using location analytics is outside the scope of this article, just know that if your shopping center wants to send highly tailored messages to shoppers based on where they are at that very moment, that’s certainly possible. All you need is the right WiFi marketing software and a properly configured network of WiFi access points.

In fact, some of the more capable WiFi marketing platforms allow you to send real-time messages over WiFi, email, SMS, in-app notification, and Facebook Messenger.

There’s An Easier Way

Creating stronger connections with your shoppers is absolutely crucial in today’s changing commercial real estate environment. And building those relationships can be daunting – especially if you’re relying on broadcast media and manual data collection.

If this is what you’re doing today, you’re on the right track. Just know that now, that’s an easier way.

Tools like WiFi marketing are easier (and more affordable) to use than ever before. And it can add value to your entire team – from the marketing coordinator to the CMO, from the general manager to the leasing agent.

The best part? If your shopping center already has a WiFi network, the right partner can make it easy to use WiFi marketing.

Want to learn more about how WiFi marketing can help your shopping center? Skyfii has already helped hundreds of properties improve the visitor experience through WiFi marketing, location analytics, and other technologies and services. Head here to find contact information for each of our global offices.