Foot-traffic tips

Selecting a hotel site is complicated, and not long ago, scoping a site near a shopping center was common. However, with today’s shift of how and where consumers shop, many are rethinking the previous “build near a mall” trend.

On the flip side, the hotel industry has followed retailer trends for years, and although the decline of shopping malls may disappoint many, there is still an abundance of wisdom hospitality can learn from today’s better-performing stores and what they are doing to drive traffic.

Let’s rewind back to a couple decades ago when chains such as Bloomingdale’s, Hudson’s, Dayton’s, Marshall Fields and Macy’s would fight for prime space in shopping centers. Today, however, these five powerhouse chains operate under one massive umbrella: Macy’s. And while other big-box entities such as Sears and JCPenney are struggling to drive business at their mall locations, other chains are either closing underperforming stores, downsizing, filing for bankruptcy or downright going out of business. Such is the story of Loehmann’s, Radio Shack, Blockbuster, Abercrombie & Fitch, Walgreens and Build-A-Bear, to name just a few.

Nearly a decade ago, there were more than 1,100 enclosed shopping malls in the United States, but today, more than 400 have either “repurposed” or outright closed. Many consumers feel weekends are one long to-do list, so gravitating to online retailers is not only easy, it preserves time. You also have those who prefer researching online before heading out to the stores, so when you combine both patterns, foot traffic is definitely being hindered.

Earlier this year, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told analysts the drop in mall foot traffic marks a “permanent shift” in consumer behavior — a simple strategic shift for his company, but a death sentence for malls. And to add fuel to the fire, 2013 holiday foot traffic was roughly half of what it was three years earlier, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal citing ShopperTrak data.

While the United States is still home to several shopping-center hubs that may tempt a hotel builder, it’s important to acknowledge that due to this major shift in how consumers shop today, many stores within a mall environment have had to readjust to lure customers. A smaller footprint has been key for those who are doing well along with a slew of one-off services and campaigns.

An obvious example of a successful niche service is the overwhelming success of the Genius Bars at Apple Stores. Lululemon’s offering of yoga classes is another successful strategy that is luring impressive foot traffic.

Let’s take a look at three other ideas that have boosted business during this time of change:

1. Popular Brazillian fashion retailer C&A provided a great example of how the real world and online worlds could indeed merge to create a modern day shopping experience. By displaying a tally of Facebook “likes” on small screens embedded into their hangers, the approval of the items from the online community encouraged shoppers to buy them now!

2. Selfridges, a huge U.K. department store, decided to lessen the “live” shopping burden for customers by introducing a unique “No Noise” campaign. The company explained the initiative with the following statement: “As we become increasingly bombarded with information and stimulation, the world is becoming a noisier place. In an initiative that goes beyond retail, we invite you to celebrate the power of quiet, see the beauty in function and find calm among the crowds.”

Side note: When customers entered the designated silent areas, they also had to remove their shoes and hand over their phones! Plus, all products in the No Noise areas were 100% de-branded.

3. To increase foot traffic, mattress retailer Coco-Mat is going to great lengths to distinguish itself with the concept of “try before you buy” in addition to developing The Nap Chamber. Visitors are encouraged to nap in their beds for up to two hours in a private room, which includes complimentary food, slippers, a robe, scented candles, plush bedding, an oversized shower and a complimentary orange juice or Greek espresso! 

The general message behind this week’s post is twofold. It informs about the trend of foot traffic declines while shedding light on what some of the better-performing retailers are doing to lure it back. The trend also serves as a reminder that it’s vital to be relevant to customer behaviors that are occurring today regardless of your industry.

Has your property updated its offerings, services and/or amenities to be relevant to today’s shift in guest behavior? If so, feel free to share what you’ve implemented and what the general reaction has been.