February 20, 2002, 12:00 AM

Cracking the puzzle of how shopping centers and online shopping mesh

Taubman Centers, which owns or manages 31 shopping centers, says it has found the answer to making shopping centers and web sites work together: Use the web as a marketing device to drive traffic to the shopping center`s stores.


Shopping center owners have struggled since the rise of online shopping with how to integrate the Internet into the shopping center experience. Bloomfield Hills, MI-based Taubman Centers Inc., which owns or manages 31 shopping centers, says it has found the answer: Use the web as a marketing device to drive traffic into the shopping center’s stores.

Most of Taubman’s shopping center-specific sites have been in operation for less than a year, but they are exceeding expectations, the company says. The sites collectively have registered 350,000 users who sign up for e-mail alerts to sales and promotions at particular stores at each shopping center, 15% ahead of goal for this time. In Q4, the sites received more than 5 million page views and hoisted 800,000 unique visitors.

Taubman employs a full-time person in each shopping center to gather information about sales, special offers, promotions and featured merchandise at every store and post it on the shopping center web site. The company says 99% of its 4,000 retail tenants participate on the web sites. Taubman web sites also offer a free weekly e-bulletin containing this information. Subscribers select which retailers they want to receive notices from, and the e-bulletin automatically tailors the sales updates to those stores. 90% of Taubman`s retailers participate in sales updates for the weekly bulletin. Taubman based this approach on the results of 36 focus groups in which it asked customers what they wanted from a shopping center’s web site. The answer: Save time and money.

"This is the first time any shopping center has been able to promote each of its tenants to customers who specifically request the information," says Carol Gies, Taubman vice president of marketing and center planning. "We can update information every 24 hours on the web site and send a new message each week through our e-bulletins. This by-permission, direct-to-the-home marketing is by far our most powerful and most measurable marketing tool."

The sites have been effective in driving traffic, Taubman says. In fact, the Privilege fashion store at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles reports that 90% of its customers on a Saturday in December used Beverly Center`s web site coupon, which offered a $100 savings on purchases of $400 or more.

Another retailer at the Beverly Center, What Lies Beneath, a women`s sleepwear and lingerie retailer, said 50% of its November phone sales could be credited to the site. The stores says it received phone orders from as far away as Texas and New York after customers read about products on the web site.

The sites also offer a gift guide featuring thousands of products, with photos and prices, a gift-reminder service that allows shoppers to list key gift-giving dates and then sends e-mail reminders, specials on hotel packages and special offers for out of town travelers and job openings in each store.


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