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CRE Opinion

How Retailers Inadvertently Prepared For the Current Health Crisis

Responding to increased e-commerce competition has helped retailers get a jump on social distancing, says Weitzman president and CEO Marshall Mills.

Retailing in the “Age of Digital” transformed itself to compete with the likes of Amazon, but as a result, the industry finds itself better prepared to perform during the current health crisis. Without realizing it—because who could have imagined the way the current health crisis would so change our world—retailers were preparing for the current “social distancing” environment.

At Weitzman, we launched a proprietary digital platform several years ago, seeing it as a way to allow tenants, particularly smaller tenants and mom-and-pop concepts, to compete by reaching customers where they shop: online and on mobile devices. As a part of that platform, we made a huge investment in a full-suite digital infrastructure that includes shopping center SEO (search engine optimized)-maximized websites, digital marketing, social media outreach, Google adwords and more.

On the brick-and-mortar side, we worked with grocery stores and other retailers on upgrades for amenities like drive-through and curbside pickup areas, which meant redeveloping parking lots and even existing retail space to make these amenities possible. At the same time, an entire industry of delivery services like Favor, DoorDash, Uber Eats and the like grew out of customers’ desire to get what they wanted, when they wanted it and where they wanted it. We worked to promote all of our tenants offering such services because we wanted to satisfy customers’ need for convenience.

Marshall Mills, Weitzman

The fortunate result of this investment finds our company and our industry with the digital infrastructure in place to achieve the need for safety and social distancing. At the same time, the digital platform gives us, as a landlord, a way to instantaneously communicate our tenants’ ever-changing circumstances to their targeted audiences.

This ability to immediately communicate as a landlord on behalf of our tenants in real time will prove to be a critical tool to let consumers know that their favorite stores and restaurants are still hard at work to service their needs. Over the next week alone, we’ll be pushing out thousands of posts on behalf of more than 1,500 tenants in North Texas. And these posts can be edited on the fly given changing circumstances.

We are reaching out to our statewide base of tenants to work with them on initiatives that will help them service their customers and keep their businesses viable. We’re working with concepts from small mom-and-pops to regional and national brands and franchisees to promote their take-out and delivery services, as well as their adjusted hours and special offers.

For those who have not previously operated such services, we’re putting them in touch with delivery platforms, many of which are currently offering free or reduced-fee services for the near term for small- to mid-size businesses. This is a huge benefit that many of these smaller concepts previously could not afford.

We instruct tenants one-on-one about staffing for phone orders to be filled for lunch and dinner and advise retailers and services on possible promotions in the current reality. We then promote these retailers and services on the shopping centers’ websites, on their social and digital platforms, and via any other distribution channels they have. We then make sure the tenants have current notices posted at their places of business pertaining to current operating hours and services such as take-out and-or delivery.

Retailers all throughout Texas are utilizing approaches like these to stay connected to their loyal and potential customers during the next critical weeks of social distancing.

Fortunately, we are already seeing results of this consistent communication and consultation. Tenants are reporting that their patrons love having ways to support their local businesses. In preparing for e-commerce competition, we created a proprietary digital and physical infrastructure that has become a critical tool in our arsenal to keep our tenants as strong as possible during these unprecedented times.

Marshall Mills is president and CEO of Weitzman, a Dallas-based retail real estate firm.

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