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Guest Blog: A safer and better Christmas for all

Ana Moita, Head of Marketing Europe and New Markets at Sonae Sierra, a member of ECSP, explains how shopping places have adapted to the health and safety challenge this Christmas.

More than ever this year, safe retail spaces are essential in our towns and cities to offer a moment of Christmas escape. At Sonae Sierra, we put the wellbeing of visitors first to ensure that visiting our shopping centres is carefree, fruitful and fun. This year, that means adding in safety measures that support in-person shopping in a responsible way, while continuing to help our tenants in every way we can in all the shopping centres we manage across Europe.

Managing visitor flows to our shopping centres is more significant than ever at this time. As well as creating communication campaigns encouraging shoppers to buy their Christmas gifts early, we have also piloted queue management systems, plus online booking platforms for visiting specific stores safely and comfortably. This also helps our tenants dedicate time to shoppers’ needs.

For centre visitors that arrive by car, we have rolled out traffic control systems to give our clients access to real time information about vehicle flows and parking in our shopping centres. This is available on the shopping centre website, its mobile app and through Chatbots. The information is conveyed with a traffic light system: green means ‘waiting for you’; amber means ‘approaching limit capacity’; while red means ‘please visit us later’. We are also piloting a mobile tool called “your car is here”, to help customers quickly and directly return to their vehicles.

Some other innovative services were implemented to offer more comfort to clients; the drive-in service at car park for clients to collect the purchases done online or by phone. The concierge service whereby customers request on the website of the shopping centre the products they have selected and the concierge team buy and collect those products, being delivered in the drive-in area at car park or at home, on the scheduled day and time slot.

Information can also be fun, as demonstrated by the success of a Pepper robot, a friendly and helpful humanoid, launched as a pilot in Colombo for the Christmas period with more than 100,000 interactions since September. We have now a new one in Norte Shopping, that has registered 2,735 total interactions after just six days.

Meanwhile, we have been helping children’s dreams come true by offering a Christmas video call with Santa Claus in almost all shopping centres managed by Sonae Sierra in different countries. The initiative has been so popular that it is fully booked until Christmas Eve nearly everywhere.

It wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t think about the most vulnerable and needy members of our communities.  Some shopping centres have also selected a local charity to support via a special Christmas tree installation. The wishes of children are tagged on the tree; shoppers can buy the gifts mentioned and the centre delivers them to the institution.

Several centres are also taking extra special care of families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of Christmas food baskets, reflecting local traditions, have been packaged and delivered to those in the catchment area hit particularly hard by the health crisis.

More than ever, this Christmas we need to support each other!