Levin Retail Tenants Report Positive Seasonal Outlook, Robust Hiring Plans

Our Annual Pre-Holiday Survey Confirms Digital Marketing Momentum

Results of Levin Management Corporation’s (LMC’s) annual Pre-Holiday Survey of our retail tenants are in and the news is more than good, with respondents reporting robust hiring plans and continued digital marketing momentum. The poll of tenants within our 95-property, 13 million-square-foot portfolio explores year-to-date performance and expectations for the critical holiday shopping season. As regional leaders in commercial real estate leasing we not only welcome these findings, but look forward to more positive retail trends ahead.

Poll Respondents Expect both Sales and Seasonal Hiring to Rise
An impressive 83.2 percent of our survey respondents project holiday sales to be at the same or a higher level than last year. A full 45.0 percent plan to add seasonal staff – well above the average 29.8 percent reporting seasonal hiring in our prior five Pre-Holiday polls (2011-2015).

LMC President Matthew K. Harding, says strong year-to-date performance is behind retail tenant optimism. In fact, 64.3 percent of survey participants reported year-to-date sales at the same or higher volume than at this time in 2015 – compared to the 2011-2015 polling average of 57.9 percent.

LMC Survey Results Mirror Findings of National Studies
LMC tenants are not alone in their optimistic outlook. The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurant sales) to reach $655.8 billion – an increase of 3.6 percent over 2015. This compares to a 10-year average of 2.5 percent. Similar studies by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), Kantar Retail and Deloitte project holiday sales to increase by 3.3, 3.8 and 3.6-4.0 percent, respectively. Further, ICSC reports 91 percent of consumers plan to holiday shop at physical stores.

Survey Respondents Predict Early Holiday Shopping Surge
LMC tenants expect their customers to shop early this year. A full 24.0 percent said they anticipate their sales will peak prior to Thanksgiving. Another 23.5 percent expect their sales peak during the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend. The balance of respondents’ expectations for peak sales are spread among early December (12.3 percent), mid-December (18.1 percent) and the weekend before Christmas (16.2 percent). Only 5.9 percent expect their peak sales to fall between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Tech-Stacked Marketing Will Rule 2016 Holiday Shopping Season
Technology-centered marketing remains an ongoing priority, say our survey respondents. The Pre-Holiday survey asked those whose companies are embracing mobile apps, social media, email, texting and other platforms to compare their amount of digital marketing year over year. A full 94.0 percent reported they will incorporate the same or more tech-centered marketing this holiday season.

“This is smart planning,” noted Melissa Sievwright, LMC’s vice president of marketing. “Deloitte forecasts that digital interactions – consumers’ use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, and desktop and laptop computers – will influence 67 percent of brick-and-mortar sales during the 2016 holiday season. In turn, our tenants recognize the importance of reaching their customers via digital platforms – both prior to and during store visits.”

Email and Social Media are Top Promotional Channels. In-Store Promotions Include Digital Coupons, Loyalty Programs and Discounts
Survey participants who are actively using technology to reach shoppers outside their stores favor email (74.7 percent) and social media (73.1 percent). Other top channels include text messaging (30.6 percent), banner and other internet advertising (30.6 percent), and digital ads targeted to mobile devices (25.3 percent). For in-store reach, popular tools include digital coupons, discounts, loyalty points and/or rapid payment (73.8 percent); free Wi-Fi (37.8 percent); post-sale online surveys (35.4 percent); and electronic receipts (29.9 percent).

Social Media is Strong Element in Digital Marketing Equation
Facebook reports the holiday season brings more posts, shares and comments than any other time of the year. Deloitte notes that social platforms – such as Facebook and Pinterest – are “shaping what people think a great shopping experience is – a fast, highly-curated assortment with access to visuals, information, and buying sources.”

Among survey respondents, Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform, used by 89.9 percent of those who incorporate social media into their marketing efforts. Other popular outlets included Instagram (40.5 percent), Twitter (33.3 percent), Google+ (27.4 percent) and Pinterest (10.1 percent).

“Social is a vital part of the digital marketing equation,” Sievwright said. “Our tenants are using these channels to announce in-store sales and experiences, and for post-event coverage. Instagram and Pinterest, since they are so visual, are popular choices.” An emerging retail trend to watch: live broadcasts from events on Facebook’s Livestream and Twitter’s Periscope.

For the first time, survey participants were asked whether they are enhancing their social media presence with paid options. Of respondents who use social media for marketing, 37.5 percent indicated they are leveraging opportunities like Facebook’s sponsored content or ads.

Our Retail Sentiment research will continue in 2017. In January, we’ll be gauging retailers’ outlooks for 2017, and in June, we’ll report mid-year progress and explore technology issues.

Can Pokémon Go Keep Retail Sales Hot Through the Holidays?

Retail Trend Watchers Are Eyeing the Staying Power of Pikachu and Friends
This was the Summer of Pokémon. Within days of its debut last July, Pokémon GO, the augmented reality game was breaking records and setting new ones. In just five days, it became the most popular game in mobile history, with its free downloads eventually reaching 500 million. While the action was concentrated among Millennials (who grew up with Pokémon), teen users were spending more time hunting Pokémon characters than posting on Twitter and Instagram combined. Females, traditionally a smaller segment of gamers, stepped up to Pokémon GO, becoming 40 percent of the user population. Since the game forced players off the couch and into the outside world, there were unintended consequences. Some, engrossed in the hunt, were robbed. A number were arrested for trespassing. Many got traffic tickets, and a few even fell off cliffs.

Pokémon GO Fans Have a Hearty Appetite for Branded Merchandise
When fans weren’t catching and training the elusive pocket monsters, they were shopping for merchandise that reflected their passion. Online sales of Pokémon merchandise were nothing short of spectacular. According to the Adobe Digital Price Index, sales of Pokémon-branded items rose 105 percent in July, compared to the previous year, with the hottest items being video games, toys and t-shirts. But what’s next? Can the frenzy continue into the holiday season? Will bricks-and-mortar stores reap the same success as online purveyors of Pokémon merchandise? Retailers have their fingers crossed and retail trend watchers are optimistic.

The Summer’s Frenzy is Cooling, but the Holiday Season Still Looks Strong
Pokémon GO was too hot not to cool down, but even as usage ebbs, the franchise itself remains a powerhouse. Gina Collins, CMO at Build-A-Bear, one of the stores licensed to sell Pokémon merchandise, is bullish on the coming season. “Sales have continued to gain momentum,” she reported. The chain’s inventory of 20th Anniversary Pokémon Pikachu plush dolls has sold out and there are wait lists for the next shipment.

Anthony Morales, assistant manager at Build-A-Bear in Fairfax, VA, reported that more and more customers are hunting Pokémon-themed items. “It feels like the 90’s all over again. We just had a group of kids that got a lot of Pikachu dolls and they were playing and talking in little Pikachu voices,” he told Ad Age.

Pokémon Items are Headed for the Kids’ 2016 Holiday Wish List
Pokémon fans can choose from an abundance of branded merchandise in the coming season: plush toys, clothing, accessories, and action figures, along with the Pokémon card game. Late November will see the launch of two new video games, Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, likely to be best-sellers in that category this holiday.

Toy Insider predicts that “the Pokémon GO craze will command a lot of space on kids’ wish lists.” Their own Hot 20 List for 2016 includes two Pokémon-themed products. At the number nine position is Pokémon My Friend Pikachu (from Tomy) a plush toy that speaks, lights up and wiggles its ears. At position 20 are the soon-to-be-released Nintendo video games Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon.

If predictors of retail trends are right, 2016 holiday sales are in for a big boost, thanks to Nintendo’s crew of irresistible pocket monsters.