Intu the void. Could the shopping centre owner have leveraged social media to keep customers engaged?

Last week shopping centre giant Intu announced it was entering administration. It's a sad and frightening time for the people employed by the group as well as the businesses and staff operating in those places. Despite owning 17 centres and welcoming 35 million customers through its doors, it has been unable to attract footfall pre and post-lockdown. We take a look at how two of its flagship centres - Manchester Trafford and Lakeside Centre in Essex - have used social media to engage shoppers, we measure the sentiment towards the centres since their re-opening as well as comparing their digital activity to that of two successful online players, ASOS and Boohoo.

By sharing this insight,  Maybe* hopes to help more shopping centres understand how they can future proof livelihoods and businesses through customer engagement.

Comparing UK shopping centres


Organisation Followers Posts on social channels Engagements on posts Average posts per day Average engagement on each post Average engagements per day. Includes likes, retweets and comments.
Intu Trafford Centre 133.9K 54 4.7K 4 88 316
Intu Lakeside 136.4K 14 802 1 57 53
ASOS 18M 132 2.7M 9 20332 178927
Boohoo 10.2M 84 837.2K 6 9967 55813

Failure to engage

The stark takeaway from an initial glance at the data shows that Lakeside has only posted on social media on average once per day since re-opening on June 15th. Trafford had a stronger output with four posts and Boohoo edged a little ahead with six. ASOS manages an average of nine posts per day. But the real thump comes from the engagement comparison. ASOS earned over two million engagements, Boohoo, 837,000; where Trafford and Lakeside just about scraped 5,000 between the two of them. These are pretty telling stats and reinforce our message that engagement during a crisis is a crucial component to recovery.


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Where ASOS and Boohoo’s best content is fashion-led and inspires action, through contest mechanics or a sense of FOMO, Intu’s falls a little short by comparison. Understandably re-opening messages were prioritised for the centres, but Trafford’s attempt shows an empty centre, while Lakeside quotes the CEO’s “excitement” at retail opening its doors. Neither of these posts successfully drove excitement for shoppers or worked to allay their potential concerns about safety measures being implemented. Both exhibit an unfortunate lack of awareness of what customers might want or need from them at this time. Something that could have been avoided by listening to the online conversation around retail re-opening, specifically in their locations. 

ASOS and Boohoo do not stop talking to their customers. Where Intu say they serve 35 million customers, who is talking to them right now?

Intu suggests that is the responsibility of the retailers and tenants to market the centre on their behalf. And while this may be true, we would argue that following up on whether brands are delivering on this obligation should lie with the centre owner themselves. In order to better understand where this responsibility would be sit, we’ve taken a look at the conversation about the centres.

Organisation Number of posts and comments about the organisation Number of engagements on those posts and comments % of positive content about each organisation
Manchester Trafford Centre 223 0.9K 2.7 %
Intu Lakeside 73 209 71.2 %
Boohoo 7.2K 173.5K 32.5 %
ASOS 1137 147.7K 72%

Low opinions and low customer interest

ASOS and Boohoo do not struggle to receive incoming social media content to them or about them. Boohoo gets mentioned over 7,000 times in two weeks whereas ASOS sees a staggering positive sentiment of 72%

Meanwhile Trafford’s sentiment score is  3% positive and the conversation about it, is driven by the brands not customers. Lakeside receives only 73 social media posts about it.

In Manchester, Selfridges’ sweet treat favourite, Borough 22, led the conversation about the Trafford Centre. While in Lakeside, all but four of the 73 conversations about it were created by brands and businesses in the centre. Where Intu believes their tenants should be marketing the centres, it appears that the brands and businesses are in this conversation more than customers.

On the other hand, the big flagships they play home to such as Primark or John Lewis have not posted to support the centres they occupy space in. These brands have huge followings, and in the case of Primark have such influence over their customers, that queues formed outside some stores as early as 4am on re-opening day. 

If the retailer is talking about their website, and the shopping centre is not talking about the retailer, who is inviting customers to turn up stores? Brands seldom talk at a local or place level to support interest in the centres they pay rent to, when they could be collaborating more to achieve mutually beneficial footfall KPIs.

Intu announced it was heading into administration on Friday June 26. Since then Lakeside received one social media post asking if the news was true. Trafford, received five. The sentiment exhibited in these posts was largely neutral, though one customer tweeted how much more centres could do to attract footfall. The lesson here is to stay alert and listen to your customers.


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Why Maybe* for UK shopping centres

While everyone is feeling their way out of the dark, Maybe* is here to provide some vital clues as to what retail and shopping centres can expect. The Maybe* platform provides a social media engagement tool that helps you listen to topical conversations and manage your own social media communications and engagement and learn from others.

Whether you’re a centre manager, an asset manager or a marketing manager, listen to the relevant social media conversations about your shopping centre or assets, and the locations that you are in. Listen to the conversation created by your tenants and retailers and understand how shoppers are feeling and behaving, so you can tailor your communications to meet their needs.

If you want to capture the spend you have to consider what else is catching your customers eye.

Key takeaway

Where Intu is citing they’ve lost ground to online players, they are correct. Not just in sales, but in customer engagement. But Intu could have done more to bridge that gap. By appealing to an online audience, engaging them and demonstrating relevance, they potentially could have held shoppers’ attention and translated this into footfall.

Above all else, this is devastating news for jobs, local economies and retail as a whole. Maybe* certainly is not here to apportion blame, Intu has not fallen because of a poor social media strategy alone. There will be myriad factors at play, none more crippling than a three-month lockdown followed by almost half of the nation’s shoppers being too anxious to return to the shops now they’ve re-opened. 

We are here to use the insight within our platform to spot clues and shed light on social media patterns that can help other retailers navigate these turbulent times. So please take from this sad situation that engaging with your customers, not just at a time of a crisis, but all the time, should be your number one priority on your social channels. Engaging keeps them close to you and you front of mind to them. Listen to their wants and needs. Serve them on social media and you just might have a shot at serving them in-store again too. 

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