To what extent has COVID affected shopping centre advertising, and what can we do about it?

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It’s hard to deny that brick-and-mortar retail stores in the UK took a heavy toll as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to figures shared by Yahoo! News, December 2021 saw footfall across UK high-street retail destinations drop by 22.2% compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

This was the month that the Government announced ‘Plan B’ restrictions to counter the threat of the COVID-19 Omicron variant — and shopping centres were not left unscathed, with their own footfall decreasing by 24.1%. So, would advertising in a shop centre still be advisable?

What does the future look like for shopping centres?

Alas, there isn’t quite a clear-cut picture. This is according to Sir John Hall, the businessman who founded the Metrocentreshopping centre still situated in Gateshead, just outside the North East England city of Newcastle upon Tyne. 

In words quoted by BBC News, Hall said that online shopping, COVID and Brexit had all been factors in struggles faced by shopping centres. He added that the next decade would provide an insight into whether shopping malls were “going to die”.

“I don’t think it’s a time to jump in and spend millions on new shopping centres, like the Metrocentre, until you know what’s happening in retailing and what are the long-term trends,” Hall opined. However, whatever the distant future may hold for shopping centres, should your brand consider advertising in them in the here and now?

How vaccines have proved a shot in the arm for in-person retail  

“It is clear that whilst retail was impacted by COVID in 2021, the rollout of the vaccine programme has been a game-changer,” Diane Wehrle of Springboard, the retail analyst firm responsible for the above figures, commented in January 2022. 

“The experience of three lockdowns has taught us that the need for human interaction and sensory satisfaction that we highlighted in the 2020 review really does drive visits and spend in stores and destinations,” the insights director continued. 

So, now could be an especially good time for your brand to invest in shopping centre advertising — especially when you stop to consider what research has suggested about its effectiveness in the aftermath of these lockdowns. 

Is advertising at a retail location now more financially worthwhile than before? 

The research firm Kantar has reported some intriguing findingson this subject. After tracking individuals’ responses to seeing advertising, Kantar found that exposure to these ads is now likelier to trigger purchases than what would have been the case just prior to the pandemic.

Kerry Corke — Global Media Director at Kantar’s Worldpanel Division — has commented that, as the pandemic left people more selective about when and how they shop in person, they made “more instinctive choices” based on equity “built up in the longer term as a result of advertising.”

Ultimately, a brand investing today in advertising can expect a higher return on investment than what they would realistically have been capable of amassing through utilising the same method back in pre-COVID times. This hints at a promising future for shopping centre advertising.