With inflation putting pressure on consumers’ wallets, many Americans have cut back on discretionary spending. But even when money’s tight, people find room in their budgets for memorable, in-person experiences. And successful businesses are finding innovative ways to attract customers in what continues to be a challenging economic environment.
We dove into the data to explore some key strategies that retailers across categories – from malls to restaurants – are using to bring in the crowds.
- Hello Kitty: Leaning Into Hot Trends With Time-Limited Pop-Ups
For many businesses, time-limited products and special offerings connected to hot pop-culture trends are a formula that can’t be beat.
Hello Kitty – hailed by Teen Vogue as Spring 2023’s biggest fashion trend – made a comeback this year. And the brand’s famous Hello Kitty Cafe Trucks, which park near different malls each Saturday, draw unbelievable crowds. Wild fans of the iconic character stand in line for hours (literally) to get their hands on limited-availability branded treats and merch. And since the trucks are positioned outside the centers, many of the eager customers also stop in to visit the malls’ own stores and eateries.
A look at foot traffic to two shopping centers in different regions of the country – Scottsdale Quarter in Arizona and Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach – shows the impact of the special event on mall visit trends. The Truck made its stop in Virginia Beach on March 11, 2023, and the mall had its busiest day all year, with visits up 164.8% compared to an H1 2023 daily average, and 38.8% compared to a typical Saturday. (The mall, like many others, is busiest on Saturdays). Scottsdale Quarter experienced a similar trend.
- Barbiecore: Embracing Fandoms With Social Events
But this summer, of course, was all about Barbie – and the world was nothing if not awash in hot pinks and pastels. Brands got in on the action by stocking up on movie-inspired merch (Barbiecore ice cream, anyone?), and businesses nationwide held Barbie-themed pop-ups and events.
Washington, D.C. beer garden Wunder Garten jumped on the Barbie bandwagon with a series of free parties for adult fans, held between July 20 and July 30, 2023. Enthusiasts could dress up and enjoy a Barbie-Q, a Malibu Pool Party, a special evening dedicated to Ken, or a Barbie Paint and Sip – and excited customers voted with their feet. The events offered serious Barbie devotees a place to gather and socialize with fellow fans, temporarily positioning Wunder Garten as a go-to destination for all things Barbie.
And a look at weekly visits to the popular venue (compared to an early-April baseline) shows that the strategy worked: Foot traffic beginning to spike during the week of July 17, before reaching a pinnacle during the week of July 24th.
- Ambiance, Ambiance, Ambiance
People looking for the cheapest and most efficient way to get what they need may go online – but when they step into a physical store, they want to feel something. And while special events are important, successful retailers also pay attention to the day-to-day ambiance of their spaces. The right decor, layout, music, and even background scent can be critical to attracting visitors and keeping them engaged.
When people enter a Playa Bowls, for example, they feel transported to a different time and place. With colorful chalkboard menus, concoctions that look too good to eat, and postcard-worthy decor, the fast-growing superfruit bowl chain evokes the feel of a summer beach vacay or an Hawaiian surf shack. (And believe it or not, the brand actually has its own official surf team). By investing in vibe, Playa Bowls has positioned itself not just as a place to pick up a healthy treat, but as one where customers can mentally escape the daily grind.
And foot traffic to Playa Bowls is on the rise, with year-over-year (YoY) visits significantly up every month since January 2023. While this growth is due in part to the chain’s expansion, the average number of visits per venue also increased a whopping 18.8% during the first half of the year.
- Keeping Employees Engaged
Have you ever found yourself looking forward to visiting a chain simply because you know you’ll encounter friendly, enthusiastic sales clerks who seem just as invested in your shopping experience as you are?
Many successful chains drive foot traffic by investing in their staff and making their businesses enjoyable places to work. Employees who look forward to coming into work each day may be more likely to go the extra mile and help create a positive, welcoming atmosphere that fosters a sense of community.
Texas cult-grocery H-E-B is case in point. The chain, known for its deep community ties and happy and dedicated salespeople, has made Glassdoor’s list of top large U.S. employers every year since 2014. And H-E-B’s people-centered approach is part of what makes it so popular. Last time we checked in with H-E-B, its strong 2022 performance placed it well ahead of statewide grocery averages. And the chain kept up its positive momentum in 2023, with YoY foot traffic outpacing both the nationwide and Texas grocery sectors through August.
Every store is different, and retailers eager to drive traffic to their venues have a range of strategies and tools at their disposal. But no matter their product or category, businesses that are tuned into what customers want and invest in making their stores attractive places to visit will be poised to succeed.
For more data-driven location intelligence insights, visit Placer.ai.