Gotta Catch Them (M)All!
Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm and provided shopping centres with a unique marketing opportunity, but it also has the potential to be a very big management headache. Emily Wright, a lawyer and retail property expert at law firm Cripps Pemberton Greenish, looks at some of the issues.
The game has been described in the US as a ‘shopping centre manager’s dream’; increasing footfall, encouraging users to walk through parts of the centre unrelated to their original shopping trip, and upping dwell time. However all these players, distracted by their search for that elusive Pikachu and potentially in unfamiliar surroundings, are unlikely to be paying much attention to their environment.
The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 imposes a duty of care on the occupier (which in the case of mall areas would be the centre owner) to ensure any visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purpose for which they are invited or permitted to be there. In the case of the key Pokémon-hunter demographic – children – the Act says the occupier must be prepared for the fact a child will be less careful than an adult. It is important then that centres take steps to warn visitors of any potential hazards and seek to protect them as far as possible; one centre in Glasgow took this to the extreme by designating Pokémon Go lanes to keep players safe (and perhaps also get them out of the way of the genuine shoppers!).
Even in the case of trespassers, there is still a duty of care owed (this time under the 1984 Act) albeit a lower duty than to a legitimate visitor. The occupier here is only required to take such care as is reasonable in the circumstances to see that anyone on the property does not suffer injury by reason of danger. This duty can be discharged by giving warnings of the danger in question, or discouraging people from entering. For instance, owners should make sure plant or service areas have adequate barriers and clear warning signs flagging their specific hazard.
Anecdotal evidence from centre asset meetings has been that areas near Pokéstops (where players collect Pokéballs needed to catch Pokémon) or gyms (where Pokémon can battle against each other) are noticeably busier. Fast food tenants have reported a sharp increase in trade, particularly in the evenings when shoppers would be headed home. But groups congregating brings with it another potential headache for centre managers; that of antisocial behaviour.
To guard against this, centre owners might need to consider upping security patrols or ramping up CCTV coverage. But this all comes at a cost, which will be passed on to the tenants via the service charge and might lead to some tricky conversations with tenants at year-end when this unanticipated expenditure appears in the accounts.
Only time will tell whether this craze has any long-term impact (good or bad) for our shopping centres, but innovative marketing – from Hammerson’s ‘Recharge Rescuers’ to the Singaporean mall luring both Pokémon and shoppers on their national day – has captured the imagination and, on the whole, it appears Pokémon Go has provided an unexpected but much-needed boost to struggling centres and high streets.
First published in Shopping Centre magazine.