ACROSS: What motivated Multi to conduct this survey?
MARIAM HUSSAIN: This survey is part of an annual group-wide initiative to collect, analyze, and interpret local visitor data in our shopping centers in order for us to best adapt to the wants and needs of our customers. Completed in November 2020, this year’s survey structure was adapted to provide insights on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our shopping center visitors through primary data collection and analysis. Our confidence in the implementation of safety measures for shopping center operations, for which we were awarded the “Safe Guard” certification from Bureau Veritas in several assets, was supported by the survey results and reflected in customer responses.
Each year, the survey results are used as part of decision-making processes for different business functions, such as, for adding a new tenant, the redevelopment of projects including extensions and leasing approaches, and additional key decisions on shopping center operations. As an organization, this is a useful way in which we can constantly stay up to date with daily and long-term operation management across different locations and countries, whilst utilizing the information to provide high-quality and customer focused retail management.
ACROSS: It’s a comprehensive survey: 33,000 visitors of shopping centers across 11 countries and 50 retail locations. How did you organize this process?
HUSSAIN: Past experience in conducting pan-European on-site research was a key part in achieving the significant scale of primary data collection and corresponding complexity of insights. The survey was organized across three different levels in our organization: Firstly, local center management, secondly, country level management, and thirdly, group level management at our headquarters in Amsterdam. The survey was designed in partnership with an external expert research partner, in order to maintain consistency and accuracy across different cultures and contexts. Virtual meetings to coordinate resources, such as representatives and tablets to conduct the survey on-site, took place simultaneously in all 50 locations from November 2 through 8, 2020. Our operations team’s prior experience with leading the survey allowed them to easily mobilize staff and resources in a safe way, whilst applying the necessary government restrictions, hygiene, and health standards. Inside shopping centers, visitors were able to complete the survey by tablet at a safe station (with hygiene and social distancing requirements), or on their personal devices. Results were collected at the asset level, filtered up to the country level, and then sent to the group level for final analysis and interpretation.
ACROSS: Which result surprised you most?
HUSSAIN: The most positively surprising result was that 70% of our visitors surveyed indicated that shopping centers are valuable places to spend time in and will continue to be especially once the Covid-19 pandemic is over. This was supported by 72% of respondents indicating that they are seeking an offline solution to reduce screen time, and more than 70% are optimistic about post Covid-19 shopping. These results were not something we took for granted and it is really great to see that our visitors continue to trust our shopping destinations. The emphasis the importance of shopping centers in a post Covid-19 world and further strengthens our belief in the future of retail.
ACROSS: Were there any other unexpected findings?
HUSSAIN: A second positively surprising result was that the shifts in shopping habits have changed substantially less than what we expected. 64% of respondents indicated that Covid-19 had significantly driven a shift in their shopping and eating out preferences. Given the scale of the pandemic, we were expecting this result to be much larger. Survey results reiterated that customer safety really goes hand in hand with this, as supported by the fact that 80% of visitors stated that they were satisfied with crowd control measures that were implemented.
ACROSS: Which one of the 11 countries distinguishes itself from the others and why?
HUSSAIN: Similar to the design and implementation of the survey itself, it is important to interpret responses with nuances for different countries, cities, and assets, to fully understand the results. One set of results that stood out to what we anticipated, came from our Italian retail assets in that survey responses were more moderate than other countries. We concluded that this was because our visitors in Italian shopping centers were more experienced with pandemic regulations in comparison to other countries, as residents in Italy were living with the crisis for longer. Differences also varied in the survey overall in terms of which questions were more polarizing than others, as illustrated by topics such as attending events and entertainment inside shopping centres in a post Covid-19 era.
ACROSS: How will Multi deal with the results resp. what will be changed or implemented in your shopping centers?
HUSSAIN: The results of the survey are extremely important in helping us to provide high-quality, customer focused retail management and to improve our daily operational activities. This allows our local teams to annually benchmark our professional performance standards, whilst placing the visitor perspective at the core of our operations and utilizing research tools to improve our decision making. We need to be ready to give our visitors the best off-line experience that they are longing for.