Credit: ECE

CHRISTMAS LIGHTING: REDUCTIONS, BUT BY NO MEANS A COMPLETE ABANDONMENT

Ulrich Schmitz, Director Center Management at ECE Marketplaces GmbH & Co. KG, believes that every opportunity should be taken to create an inviting shopping atmosphere.

Modern technology and well thought-out concepts have enabled us to meet both the call for investment and operating cost optimization as well as the expectations and needs of customers and rental partners. Christmas decorations have been shown to make an important contribution to emotional well-being during the Christmas season, and they have a positive influence on customers’ willingness to spend. Our shopping centers offer the best conditions under which the most appropriate Christmas flair can be created, thus encouraging visitors to do their Christmas shopping directly on site – at brick-and-mortar stores. Therefore, Christmas decorations should not be completely dispensed with, but measures should be taken to con- serve energy. The local conditions at each location are also very different, which means both the environment of the center as well as the Christmas decorations themselves must be taken into account. If the lighting consists of LED lights, for example, the consumption of electricity is very low, but the effect on the customer is considerable. There are a number of other measures that have already been implemented at our ECE shopping centers – measures that have helped us conserve quite a bit of electricity. Setup and dismantling costs are firmly factored into the marketing budgets and should be used accordingly during the weeks that generate the highest sales in the retail sector. The coronavirus pandemic restrictions have significantly impacted brick-and-mortar retail, and many sectors have yet to reach pre-crisis levels. Every opportunity should be taken to create an inviting shopping atmosphere and to provide incentives for brick- and-mortar (gift) shopping, especially during the Christmas season. The emotional atmospheres that can be found at the centers contribute to that end. Therefore: Christmas decoration cutbacks are inevitable this year, but a complete abandonment is rather unlikely.

CUSTOMER PERCEPTION OF OUR ENERGY CONSERVATION EFFORTS

We also initially asked ourselves whether we could really conserve energy in a way that would be perceived by the customer. We conducted a representative customer survey, and we were surprised by the high positive approval ratings. Not only do visitors expect us to conserve energy, but they are also absolutely willing to accept noticeable reductions in brightness or fountain operation, for example. We have interpreted those results as a mandate and have put measures into practice. Whatever measures we take, it is important to us that the shopping experience is not overly impaired and that we always comply with all legal requirements and benchmarks. Beyond our energy- conserving initiative, we have implemented measures to conserve electricity, such as the conversion to LED technology at our centers. In addition, an effort is underway to systematically install photovoltaic systems on the roofs of our properties, thereby advancing the use of climate-friendly solar energy. Initially, around 50 centers across Germany are to be equipped with such systems by 2024. That will enable us to make a positive contribution to climate targets and to meet the expectations of our visitors in terms of sustainable center operation. Conserving energy and positioning ourselves sustainably for the future are very important to us, but we consider other means of doing so, such as those mentioned above, to be much more significant contributions to that end than Christmas decorations. There is no leverage to be found in the cost of operating Christmas decorations at any rate. On the whole, Christmas lighting at our centers accounts for only a marginal share of the total electricity demand.

Brightly lit Christmas trees and fairy lights as far as the eye can see – that is exactly what distinguishes brick-and-mortar retailing from on- line retailing. It is about emotions! After all, Christmas decorations make an important contribution to the general Christmas feeling and have a direct influence on a customer’s inclination to consume. The latter has been put under a great deal of strain of late, particularly as a result of various crises, the war, and inflation. For the brick- and-mortar retailer, both small and large, it is important that the level of Christmas flair is appropriate and that visitors do their Christmas shopping directly on site. We, too, carefully analyze the circumstances at each of our locations and adjust the extent to which they are decorated for Christmas. At the same time, we want to give visitors, as well as retailers, the opportunity to experience a festive Christmas season in both private and professional contexts, despite the current economic challenges. Apart from the commercial aspects of Christmas, we should offer our visitors the magic and warm atmosphere of the Christmas season. Each one of us is in need of such moments.

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