In retail, who’s the Chicken and who the Pig?

November 2014

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!

This sums up the different attitude towards digital marketing of top-flight retailers and retail property landlords, in particular in the context of shopping centers.

Whilst the best retailers are investing significant sums and re-architecting their business processes to support omni channel commerce, only a few (2?) big retail landlords are showing they understand just how dramatically new technologies are and will disrupt their industries.

Let me give two examples. First, take mobile devices. Phones, Phablets and tablets are now in the hands of 75% of the UK population, and their presence is changing people’s behaviour. Whereas we used to have to sit at our desk to surf the web, nowadays we have it in our pocket, it goes everywhere with us, and we use it to reference just about everything. It is only during working hours that the PC now leads in terms of internet access. Outside of office hours mobile rules.

And that is when people go shopping. Out of office hours. Online and offline.

So why then are the large majority of shopping centre websites so hideous and painful to view on a smartphone? You don’t think they are? Well compare with johnlewis.com, or netaporter or asos or amazon.

Two areas stand out. Admittedly compared to a year ago many of these sites are now at least mobile friendly. However the same lack of attention to detail, in the navigation, in the imagery, in the copy remains. Seldom do I come across a page that does not have text that is unreadable, or images that have not simply been lifted from the desktop site and so are squashed or stretched in some horrible fashion. Almost to a fault navigation is incoherent and ill thought out.

Perhaps worse though is the dullness of content. A list of shops, restaurants, events and a few, usually extremely weak, offers. Almost never do you come across a site that you’ll want to return to. Let alone frequently. I struggle to think what is the point of these sites. More importantly I think the industry is missing a trick, in fact a huge open goal.
A shopping centre encapsulates modern retailing, with the best containing most of the sought after retailers. All the world’s goodies are inside. But instead of being a passive receptacle, why not take the role of ringmaster and guide visitors to the new, the exciting, the unique, the beguiling. It is for the centre to attract me, the customer, to visit by showing me the wonders within. It is for the centre to invest in great content to attract the crowds that their retailers thrive on.

Shopping centres aren’t in the property business anymore, they are in the tech and content business. Most are chickens. We need more pigs.

Antony

This was first published in Estates Gazette 13th November.