Why Sunway Malls is looking beyond traditional advertising to drive footfall

Sunway Malls is looking beyond promotions, advertising and PR to attract footfall and sales conversions. H.C. Chan (pictured), CEO of Sunway Malls and Theme Parks said consumers today have high expectations of service and quality of products.

"They are spoilt for choice and gravitate towards brands that can engage with them in a creative manner," he said. Chan explained to A+M, that being a themed mall adds to the challenge of making Sunway Pyramid consistently relevant for consumers. As such, the mall recognises the need to look beyond traditional tactical marketing campaigns.

In a bid to provide a more immersive experience and keep up with the changing times, Sunway Malls recently unveiled an experiential activation at Sunway Pyramid titled "Oasis Garden". Costing approximately RM250,000, the Oasis Garden features a rainforest-like environment across six floors of escalator decks from the car park to retail floors.

The main concept behind Oasis Garden was to leverage the sense of sight, sound, smell and touch to create a pleasant transition for shoppers who are walking from the parking bays to the retail space and vice versa. It showcases artificial greenery with sounds of birds, crickets, frogs and monkeys in the background. This is accompanied by sounds of flowing water and gushes of wind. Keeping in line with the environmentally conscious consumer, about 60% of the materials used in Oasis Garden, which took six months to build, are recycled from previous festive decor and events.

Chan said the escalators stood out in terms of importance and conduciveness when the team was identifying the areas to bring out the soundscape. This is because two thirds of mall traffic utilises those escalators, which translates to two million visitors per month.

"The location represented a strategic value to make an impression to a great number of visitors. It is a captive market we had not targeted before," he said.  Chan also told A+M that it is investing up to 1.5% of its total revenue in digital transformation across all malls. He said:

Digital transformation should not be done in piecemeal fashion. Rather it should work in sync in an ecosystem that is able to deliver valuable insights and increased productivity.

While he declined to share details of the new technologies that Sunway Malls is investing in, Chan said there will be a "greater reliance" in leveraging technologies to deliver a cohesive shopping experience. This is done by ensuring its malls are mobile-first, big data and analytics driven and sustainable driven.

Impact of Oasis Garden on Sunway Pyramid

Chan added that Sunway Malls' success with Oasis Garden shows that there is a way to turn science into art, which can then turn a space into something that consumers can enjoy. Oasis Garden, for example, has enabled Sunway Pyramid to engage four out of five shoppers, compared to the zero interaction the escalator decks had prior to the transformation.

Chan said a sample study conducted by the mall also indicated that 70% of shoppers showed positive verbal and body language when using the escalators. Some shoppers even commented that the escalators "feels like a forest", is "creative" and "beautiful". The experiential activation also saw more shoppers staying longer at the seating areas in the mall and using the facilities.

On the social media front, there were also more Instagram uploads by shoppers concerning the mall, a sign that there is better brand advocacy and affiliation.

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Importance of building an immersive shopping experience

Chan said the mall and retail industry has evolved from functional shopping to experiential retail. Hence, malls and retailers believe that the continued relevance in creating experiences is essential to their continued success.

"It is the question of what you do with the space, how are you going to make it experiential, what trade categories can conjure up ‘experience’ and ‘socialisation’, among other pertinent questions that malls need to ask themselves to face this onslaught," Chan added.

According to him, shoppers today visit malls to reenergise themselves through leisure and entertainment. "We have seen the proliferation of non-shopping offerings expanding relative to shopping offerings over the past few years. For example, leisure and F&B in the early days may constitute 30% to 40% of nett leattable area (NLA) in a mall. But today, that figure can go beyond 50%," he added.

Sunway Malls sees this trend being translated into the opening of more specialty retail stores and F&B outlets. Over the years, F&B outlets have witnessed a "substantial gain" in terms of the overall NLA in its malls. Today, close to 25% to 30% of its malls' NLA are F&B dominant compared to the earlier years, where it made up a single-digit percentage, Chan said. When combined with leisure and entertainment outlets, the malls' NLA will become more than 50%.

Meanwhile, the socialisation aspect is also one of the key drivers for the growth of food and beverage outlets, especially outlets such as artisanal coffee places and hipster outlets that allow a high degree of interaction among patrons. This can also be applied to other trade categories such as traditional showrooms, to make consumers' visits more experiential. For example, customer recognition, pampering and service is part of the overall service when making purchases at luxury retailers. Such an experience, Chan said, solidifies the brick and mortar existence.

Also, while e-commerce has offered consumers convenience and price advantages, it still lacks the ability to leverage on a consumer's five senses. This aspect of engagement is something that traditional retail outlets still have an advantage in and very apt at harnessing, to offer a personalised shopping journey.