- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2001

Malls faced with stiff competition primarily from strip centers and other surrounding malls are scrambling to find ways to bring in new shoppers and keep the old ones returning.

The traditional multilevel shopping complexes lately have taken a back seat to more convenient options tailored to on-the-go shoppers who don't have the time or inclination to roam through a monstrous retail center.

The problem is, these shopping centers are all vying for the same retail dollar that's being spent at the power centers like those anchored by Target, Home Depot or Bed, Bath and Beyond, or trendy storefront retail areas like Georgetown, or the ever-growing number of on-line merchants.

"Traditional malls are definitely worried, and with good reason," says Kurt Barnard of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, a forecasting firm in New Jersey. "Twenty-five or 30 years ago, a mall was a place of entertainment. But now people don't have time. Shopping is not an entertainment, it's a chore."

As a result, malls have no choice but to beef up their promotions, market to targeted groups of shoppers and continue to maintain a tenant mix that will appeal to on-the-go consumers.

"To have you keep coming back and spend more money that's the crux," said John Konarski, senior staff vice president for research and government relations at the International Council of Shopping Centers, an industry trade group based in New York.

Area malls are doing anything they can to keep traffic flowing. For instance, they are bulking up traditional advertising through radio and television ads, promoting loyalty programs that reward repeat customers and going on line to market to specific groups through electronic bulletins.

"Marketing has become sophisticated," Mr. Konarski says. "I don't think there is one most effective way [to advertise] anymore. Each center has to figure it out themselves."

And what may work for one mall may not be the best use of limited marketing budgets for a neighboring mall.

Tysons Corner Center, which has one of the area's most recognizable advertising campaigns, has extensively used radio airwaves to convey its message "where the stores are."

Although the creative image changes every year, the tag line, which the mall has used since 1989, has stayed the same. That's because it's a simple way to tell shoppers that Tysons with its more than 250 stores has the retailers they're looking for, says Eric Kulczycky, marketing and public relations director at the 2.1 million-square-foot mall in McLean.

Recently Tysons, with the help of D.C.-based Adworks, added another element to its overall marketing effort, using the tag line "where the unique stores are." That tells consumers Tysons has retailers that can't be found anywhere else in the area, like its new L.L. Bean store.

"Our leasing strategy dictates our marketing strategy," Mr. Kulczycky says.

Westfield America Inc., which owns the properties formerly known as Wheaton Plaza, Montgomery Mall and Annapolis Mall, has branded each of the malls with the Westfield Shoppingtown name. This type of cluster marketing is uncommon in an industry that's usually trying to differentiate itself from the other malls in the area.

But Westfield officials insist each mall has its own identity once shoppers walk through the doors. Combining their efforts is a cost-saving measure.

"We're not just stamping on a brand when marketing the three malls," says Beth Gallagher, southeast regional marketing coordinator for Westfield. "It's giving us an economy of scale to reach out to more people."

The three malls, which bring in 52 million total shoppers annually, pool their marketing dollars to advertise on radio and on one of the most expensive mediums, television.

Adding more appeal

Even as the older malls continue with traditional advertising, they are taking a fresh look at what draws shoppers in the first place.

Tysons Galleria, opened in 1988 and renovated in 1996, is getting ready for a new marketing campaign one that will refresh its look inside the mall, build awareness of new stores and incorporate a new company-wide Web site.

The 800,000-square-foot center's focus in the past few years has been on remerchandising and adding new stores to its unique mix of upscale retailers like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Last year 15 new stores were added.

"We need a new campaign to express our new face," says Jaime Friedman, Tysons Galleria's director of marketing, adding that she hopes the new campaign is ready by April.

The mall, owned by developer General Growth Properties, will also incorporate a new company-wide Web site, www.mallibu.com, that provides information about each of its malls.

Eventually the company will add an electronic commerce element to its site to allow shoppers to buy merchandise on line directly from the stores within their local mall not from the retailer's corporate site.

John Bucksbaum, the chief executive of Chicago-based General Growth Properties, says the Web site was developed not as a marketing tool but as a "portal page for e-commerce."

"E-commerce allows you to know your customer on a one-to-one basis," Mr. Bucksbaum says. "It creates relationships."

Since e-commerce is becoming such a popular shopping alternative, Mr. Bucksbaum wants his centers to be a part of it to maintain their customer bases.

"You have to offer customers multi-channels," he says, "It's going to become a normal expectation."

On-line benefits

Creating relationships and maintaining old ones is exactly the reason behind a mall's massive marketing effort.

Some industry officials feared on-line retail and its growing popularity would some day lead to the demise of the physical store and essentially the mall. But instead of falling victim, some centers are embracing the Internet as an effective marketing tool.

Lakeforest and Fair Oaks, both owned by Detroit-based Taubman Centers, will soon hit the virtual world with new Web sites that give mall information and alert shoppers to sales and promotions from their favorite retailers.

After extensive research, Taubman found that shoppers wanted to get gift ideas and know what's on sale before they get to the mall.

A handful of Taubman Centers across the country are already on the Web. Lakeforest's Web site (www.shoplakeforest.com) will debut March 7 and Fair Oaks' site (www.shopfairoaks.com) will start in April.

Shoppers go on line, fill out basic information about themselves and check off up to 20 of their favorite retailers at the mall. Each week they will get "e-bulletins" through their e-mail with information about the stores they requested.

"In marketing, it's always been a puzzle," says Carol Giese, Taubman's vice president of center planning and marketing. "Up to this point it's been all guesswork. The Web breaks free of that."

"This is an opportunity to talk directly to our customers," says Britta Monaco, marketing director at Lakeforest, which is creating a tag line to accompany the new Web site.

The Gaithersburg mall, as well as Fair Oaks in Fairfax, will incorporate the new Web address on all of its future advertising, from print and broadcast to signs inside the center.

"A lot of our marketing will be through the Web site because it can be targeted," says Ferris Kaplan, marketing director at Fair Oaks. "We will not have to put out a TV commercial and hope that the right person sees it."

Rewarding loyalty

Loyalty or reward programs, which offer bonuses to repeat customers, have become an important part of a mall's marketing strategy. It's nothing new as industries across the board like airlines, hotels and supermarkets have found success with their own reward programs.

Rouse Co.'s Premier Shopper Club has more than 770,000 members in 32 of its centers. The program offers everything from exclusive deals and discounts and free services to on-line benefits like gift and special-date reminders.

"It's about building loyalty having shoppers come back time and time again," says Patrick Walsh, general manager at the Mall in Columbia, which has 25,000 Premier Shopper Club members. "Our loyal patrons see value in this club."

Rouse also sees value as it collects thousands of shoppers' names, addresses and e-mail addresses in each of its centers' markets.

"It helps us market more efficiently," says Cathy Case, associate director of marketing at the Columbia, Md.-based developer. "We can address our membership specifically rather than spend a lot of dollars on broad-based advertising."

However, mall rewards programs don't always work.

Landmark Mall, owned by General Growth Properties, had a loyalty program for about four years and built a database of 22,000 shoppers. Its "Rewards Card" members could swipe their card at one of three kiosks in the mall to get discounts and retail information.

But the cost of maintaining the program, which included fixing broken kiosks, was too expensive for the center, says Gayle Spurr, former marketing manager at Landmark and current director of marketing at Springfield Mall.

Simon Property Group, which owns the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington and St. Charles Town Center in Waldorf, is ending its "Mall Perks" program in April.

Mall Perks, which was started by the DeBartolo Realty Corp. and continued when Simon merged with DeBartolo in 1996, gave its 2.3 million members discounts on retailers, travel packages and community events like the zoo or symphony.

"We took the program as far as we could," said Billie Scott, director of public relations for Indianapolis-based Simon Property. "We're looking now at the best way we can connect with our customers … either with the incarnation of another loyalty program or in other ways."

Community service

Even the slightest efforts like top-notch customer attention or free services like shopping bags and gift wrap help promote a center.

For instance, in response to shoppers' requests, the Mall in Columbia recently added a coat and package check. With enhanced customer service, Mr. Walsh says, shoppers are likely to return whether they are part of the Premier Shoppers Club or not.

And with all the new competition, malls are doing everything possible to remain the center of their communities.

"Shopping centers have become members of the community," says Mr. Kaplan from Fair Oaks. "We've become a destination."

Fair Oaks, like many centers, focuses on that destination appeal.

For instance, the mall celebrates Halloween every year, bringing as many 10,000 children and adults into the center to trick-or-treat.

"Our best marketing tool is working with the community," said Lisa DeBow, marketing director at the Westfield Shoppingtown Wheaton.

The three area Westfield properties have a lot of the same weekly and monthly gatherings like events for children that drive more people into the mall who will probably stick around after to grab some food or go shopping.

Westfield also has signature events like its annual "Westfield Works Wonders" which last year benefited more than 130 charities in the Washington. About 40,000 shoppers combined paid $5 to shop exclusively at one of the three malls for three hours. The admission price went to the shoppers' charity of choice.

"It's a terrific branding tool," Ms. Gallagher says. "It gets the word out that Westfield is out there. And it's not just us telling you we're community players, we're showing you."

Undoubtedly retail dollars will continue to be spread out through other venues as more convenient ways to shop spring up. But malls are relying on marketing and community involvement to remain at the top of mind for shoppers.

"Malls are going to be around for a long, long time," Mr. Barnard says. "But they will have to change with the times."

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