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Brands, Beaches & Booze: The Story of How Retail Survived a Pandemic

Sequential corridors of lockdown during the last 24 months all but effectively sounded the death knell for the British high street. Recorded by the High Streets Task Force on the day that non-essential retail reopened in April 2021, consumer footfall was down 65.6% compared to the same day in 2019. With physical retail in an almost catatonic condition, the industry had to adapt to ensure that connection with consumers was not lost forever, sparking a renewed approach to marketing. Observing this trend, Location Live – the UK’s premier location scouts for marketing campaigns – launched their digital marketplace for space, lo:live in conjunction with the first lockdown. Compiled from over 20 million individual pieces of data collected on the platform, a new unique report – the LO:DOWN 1.0 – has documented the resuscitation of the retail industry detailing the £400 million worth of space considered by brands to host their experiential marketing campaigns, and the locations that that served as the make-shift shop fronts during a time when space became a scarce commodity. While advertising spend soared into overdrive, with a record £29.7 billion spent – signalling a 26.4% increase on 2020 – the new report details that it was within the experiential marketing industry that the relationship between consumers and brands was rebuilt, breathing a new sense of life into retail.

North West Resurgence of Retail
The easing of lockdown and subsequent reintroduction of non-essential retail sparked a race for brands to reconnect with their consumers. Not wishing to allow consumer reticence of travel to dent engagement, creative agencies and brands launched nationwide campaigns to corners of the country previously deemed less “commercially” important. As such, cities in the North West became increasingly prevalent for marketing campaigns and emerged as pivotal locations, with 22% of all experiential space being booked in Manchester, with Liverpool proving equally vital. These findings are a stark illustration that the dominance of London-centric campaigns is dwindling, with only 36% of experiential space being booked in the capital during 2021.

Where Did the Retail Revival Take Place?
Location types had a crucial role to play in retail’s bounce back too, especially during a time when space became a scarce resource, therefore forcing creative agencies and brands alike to source alternative environments that were suitable for gatherings during the pandemic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, of the £400 million worth of locations available, 66% of all experiential space activations booked through lo:live were outdoors. However, the outdoor spaces that were bought by brands provided an insight into the emerging value of locations that became commodities due to the restrictions imposed upon society. For example, city squares, urban green spaces and outdoor locations at retail centres accounted for 75% of all spaces bookings. The types of space available also had an unprecedented influence on the cities that were selected as venues for campaign activations, typified by the emergence of Brighton – which due to availability of beachfront and associated attractions – entered the top five most popular cities for brand activations for the first time.

How Experiential Satisfied Our Need for Luxury
Sectoral influence of brand activations also bore great importance to the effective revival of retail, with certain industries using experiential marketing in far greater abundance than others. Of the 300-plus campaigns planned through the lo:live platform, it became explicitly clear that Food & Beverage (F&B) brands dominated marketplace interest, with 26% of all campaign activity emanating from this sector. While there was a back-log of previously planned F&B brand activations which were rolled out as soon as the lockdown rules eased, consumers who had been uncharacteristically limited to the more-essential food items were now enthusiastic for new offerings and brands sensed the pent-up demand. Similarly, the lack of ‘luxuries’ and ‘self-indulgence’ opportunities during the pandemic saw Health and Beauty products occupying 15% of experiential campaigns initiated. This correlation was further confirmed by the relatively high space occupied by alcohol brand activations, which stood at 8% of all campaigns actioned.

Kevin Cavilla, Chief Technology Officer at Location Live, analyses how the data captured in the report details the revival of the retail industry:

‘The purpose of lo:live was to radically expand the marketplace by taking the complexity out of the location search-and-book process in experiential marketing. lo:live removes transactional barriers and cuts out unnecessary intermediaries and mark-ups. However, we also knew when we were designing the architecture of this intelligent ‘self-service’ platform how powerful lo:live would be as window into the marketplace and the very pulse of campaign planning. lo:live captures UK-wide data from real-time transactions so that the platform’s AI-powered analytics can filter the data for insights into emerging space trends, supply and demand indicators, and market behaviour by industry sector and target consumer demographics.

“Like the lo:live platform itself, the activity data is unbiased and acts as an impartial witness to industry planning perceptions and mindset. Moreover, the data is crystal clear and unambiguous, because lo:live transactions are direct, frictionless and transparent. For example, during the pandemic we quickly identified an emerging ‘hyper-local’ phenomenon where brand activation campaigns were reoriented to touchpoints closer to consumers. We immediately became aware of the move to outdoor locations with larger spaces for engagement which challenged landlords to respond to the trend and activate parts of their portfolio previously under the radar of this media.

“In these situations, we are able to alert to our clients to these shifts in demand so they can make fully data-backed decisions when searching for space. Landlords benefit by being aware of these realignments and how to price inventory in response. With our data-driven report we are sharing these insights with the broader marketplace as a compass for them to validate their campaign planning direction and baseline strategies, or realign them as necessary. Everyone wins when the market is better informed and more efficient. Call it a digital “democratisation” of the industry.”