LOS ANGELES — This month, shoppers at Westfield malls will be able to donate to their favorite charity and, in return, receive offers and discounts from other restaurants and retailers, the company announced.

The “Shop Your Heart Out” event held until November 1 is seen as a way for shoppers to give back to a charity but for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), the owner of the Westfield shopping centers, it is a gimmick to bring customers back to its brick-and-mortar malls in the age of the coronavirus.

“This year has not been easy for anyone, which is why we wanted to make sure we kicked off the holiday season—a time so many people look forward to—in a special way,” URW Executive Vice President Media Sales, Marketing, and Digital Ghadi Hobeika said in a statement.

What You Need To Know

  • Mall operators have increased the number of events and rewards promotions to lure in shoppers 

  • Malls and retail owners have suffered financially since the coronavirus pandemic began

  • Los Angeles has reopened indoor malls but at 25% maximum occupancy

  • Mall owners have seen a reduction in rent collection since the pandemic began

With the coronavirus keeping many shoppers away from brick-and-mortar places, retailers, many of whom are grappling with low sales and a decline in foot traffic, are looking for all kinds of ways to bring them back in as Los Angeles once again allows malls to reopen with modifications.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department gave the green light for indoor shopping centers to reopen but with only 25% maximum occupancy. Visitors and employees must adhere to social distancing guidelines and remain six feet apart.

Indoor shopping malls and most of the retail industry have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Shelter-in-place orders in March from the state and local municipalities, along with only allowing the opening of essential businesses, led to malls and several brick-and-mortar retail stores to close for months, and some store owners to bankruptcy.

Now, with Los Angeles malls reopened, Westfield and other mall owners and retailers have stepped up their promotions, rewards system, and events to bring in the cautious crowds.

The Beverly Center, owned by the Taubman Centers, set up its first ever pumpkin patch where its valet used to be on Third Street. The valet is closed due to the coronavirus. That area has been transformed with decorations of pumpkins, carving demonstrations, and other stuff leading up to Halloween day, said Taubman Strategic Communications Director Maria Mainville.

Barry’s Bootcamp is also hosting various outdoor workout classes at the upscale mall. Additionally, the center has upped its safety measures by installing a hospital-grade filtration system, making mask for visitors and employees a requirement and even placing a new vending machine that dispenses personal protective equipment such as masks, sanitizers, and gloves.

“Since our reopening less than three weeks ago, our traffic is not on par with what is typical for this time of year as we have a mandated 25% capacity limit,” Mainville said. “However, we hope that will be lifted and, regardless, we expect a very robust and successful holiday between in-mall shopping and curbside pickup.”

A scan of websites of other indoor malls, such as the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach and Glendale Galleria in Glendale, shows those mall operators offering pumpkin patches, discounts of up to 50% off at certain retailers, and buy one get one free promotion.

“As people yearn for a sense of normalcy during these uncertain times, we want our community to know that we are here for them not only with appropriate seasonal events but also safeguards for their visit,” Mainville said.

For URW, the company has increased the number of promotions at its malls in Los Angeles and enhanced the Westfield Loyalty Rewards program. Customers would receive points for every dollar spent at its participating malls and earn other credit at retailers and restaurants in those malls.

Since the pandemic began, the extended closure of most of URW’s mall portfolio around the world, including its U.S. locations, has hurt the company’s bottom line. According to its half-year-results, the company’s rent collection dropped from 94% in the first quarter of this year, pre-COVID-19, to 38% in the second quarter ending in July. In the U.S., the company’s collection rate was at 34% in June and 56% in July. Many of their tenants, including 24 Hour Fitness, J.C. Penney, and Cinemex, filed for bankruptcy.

In a separate interview with Spectrum News 1, Hobeika, the executive vice president at URW, could not discuss the company’s sales performance during the pandemic.

“It’s been challenging,” Hobeika said. “There are certain areas in the country where local regulations could not allow us to operate. Though it’s been challenging, we’re seeing some sales and traffic.”

Hobeika said the company is focused on bringing shoppers back to the mall, and the rewards program is one way to do that. The Westfield Loyalty Rewards program launched in 2017 in Europe and is now at seven participating malls in the U.S., including Westfield Century City in Century City and Westfield Topanga & The Village in Canoga Park.

The program has more than 72,000 enrolled members and $54 million in tracked sales, Hobeika said. The company recently enhanced the rewards program with a new VIP-level option called Status. High-spending visitors will receive benefits that include valet parking, concierge access, and other exclusive experiences.

As Halloween ends, the company also plans to roll out more holiday-themed events, from having a holiday market to an immersive augmented reality experience for visitors.

“We want to grow our customer base and want to bring them back,” Hobeika said.