Why the Food Court is the New Department Store
Awareness of the patterns and preferences that govern foot traffic, whether at a restaurant or a retailer, comes down to location data, writes UberMedia's Eric Aledort.
The local mall is in trouble.
But one reason some upscale malls have done a better job of weathering the economic headwinds of the past few years, as well as the decade-long digital disruption of retail, is the fact that their food courts have done a better job of keeping pace with our changing food preferences.
Put simply, people need a reason to go to the mall, and the quick serve restaurants that make up the food court, along with the larger sit-down restaurants, are fast becoming the anchors of today’s malls, replacing the drawing power of the department stores.
Of course, our taste in food is subjective, culinary trends change quickly, and dining preferences vary by locality.
Retailers and mall owners can’t learn what they need to know about consumer behavior just by taking inventory of the dining options in the area. Instead, retailers and mall owners can dig deeper into consumer behavior by using mobile location data to understand the patterns and preferences that govern retail foot traffic. Here are some questions retailers should be looking to mobile location data to answer.
How can we conform to the demographics around our location?
If you want to know what restaurants consumers will value inside of a mall, it’s critical to know what restaurants they prefer outside of the mall.
In San Diego and Denver, two cities with flourishing craft beer cultures, a craft beer option inside a mall should be a no-brainer for mall owners looking to attract tenants as well as retailers looking for locations with significant foot traffic. But it’s not enough to be on trend, you need mobile location data to make sure you’re on target.
So for example, a San Diego mall or Denver-based retailer isn’t conforming to the demographics of their location simply because there happens to be a craft brew pub in the food court.
What mobile location data means in this context is making location decisions based on the demonstrated consumer preferences of the people who live in the neighborhood as well as the larger transitory population that comes to the mall to eat and shop.
In essence, you’re using mobile location data to ask where do craft beer aficionados dine and shop, and would a brew pub at the mall cause them to shift their behavior pattern?
What is your foot traffic density, and how does it change around mealtime?
There’s a time and a place for a mall visit, but if you spend a lot of time in a mall, you’ll notice that clientele and traffic volume change with the time of day and day of the week. Both mall owners and retailers have always sought to quantify their visitors, but not only have attempts to collect that information been somewhat crude historically, they’ve been limited to what’s happening inside the mall.
By focusing on mobile location data in the vicinity of the mall, retailers and mall owners can develop a deeper understanding of foot traffic patterns, density, and day-parting. That data, in turn, has the power to reshape the very essence of the mall.
Should a mall, for example, feature a weekend brunch location? If the mobile location data from the area indicates a spike in weekend brunch traffic nearby, the answer is probably yes; such an offering would be especially competitive when you consider that the mall likely has better parking options and stores to visit while waiting for a table.
Of course, brunch is a fluid concept. In some areas, that may mean pancakes and omelets, but in other neighborhoods there might be a strong preference for dim sum or Southwestern fare; understanding those hyper-local preferences is at the heart of mobile location data.
How can you better target audiences based on their dining preferences?
There’s an old saying that you are what you eat. But for mall owners and retailers, it might be better to say your customers are where they eat. For example, an audience that consistently visits a quick serve hamburger chain isn’t as likely to visit a high-end jewelry store as an audience that spends three times as much on lunch. Mobile location data can help inform mall owners and retailers when they make decisions about where to locate their stores and which tenants to court, but that same data can also be used to in an advertising context.
If the high-end jewelry store, is located in a high-traffic area that attracts a diverse audience, it should apply some sophistication to the way it targets customers via mobile. But proximity alone, won’t be an accurate means of targeting, because the high-end jewelry store will inevitably end up paying to reach an audience that will never walk through its doors.
By focusing on the dining preferences exhibited by consumers in the area, brick and mortar locations can articulate granular audiences of likely customers using location data along with social, app usage, and other key mobile location data. After all, mobile location data isn’t just about the insights you can glean from the area, it’s fundamentally about understanding the consumers all around you.
*Eric Aledort is Chief Business Development Officer at UberMedia. Eric joined UberMedia from Yahoo! where he most recently served as VP, head of media for the global partnerships group, overseeing all strategic partnerships with content providers, commerce partners, resellers, production companies and other media partners. Eric also worked as head of business development for Dex One, a major local advertising portal, head of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development at WebMD and ran the Business Development team at the Disney Internet Group, representing ABC, ABCNews, ESPN and Disney in online and wireless deals including launching the earliest OTT digital content businesses.