Canal Place Counters E-Commerce with Support from the Local Community

NEW ORLEANS – With online retailers promising overnight deliveries, and major companies offering store pickup for orders placed through their website, Canal Place in downtown New Orleans is getting creative and coming up with news ways to attract customers.

By generating partnerships with a handful of local organizations, Lisa Manzella, the general manager of Canal Place, and her corporate colleagues have made the mall more than just collection of unique retail offerings. It’s become a place where the community can gather for fun, holiday festivities and cultural enrichment.

“We know that customers want an experience, so our focus now is more of a people-centered approach,” said Manzella.

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Today, Dec. 7, food trucks will swing by the shopping center during lunch, and later tonight, a fashion design competition will take place while cocktails and light bites are served, and while music plays in the background. On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 8, guests can take selfies with Santa Clause.

Other ongoing projects will either culminate or unfold during the holidays, and throughout the year. The activities stem from the company’s efforts to counter the rise of e-commerce.

Tomorrow’s fashion design competition is part of a mentorship program that pairs local students with fashion industry experts. In honor of the New Orleans Tricentennial, each team created a dress form that represents a decade of fashion. The exhibition, Dress Fête: 300 Years of Fashion, will be on display during the holidays. 

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Through a partnership with the Arts Council New Orleans, Canal Place opened an artist-in-residency program. They provide complimentary onsite studio space for local artists and allow shoppers to watch them in action. Canal Place will also host open houses and free public performances, as well as programmatic art.  

The local couple behind Luna Botanicals created a live moss art installation, illuminated by the phrase “With love, from Nola.” The wall will be updated with new phrases throughout the year.

“There has been nonstop activity in front of that wall since the day it went up,” said Manzella. “We're seeing a heavy increase in social media presence because our customers are taking photos and selfies in front of the wall, sharing them on social media, and tagging Canal Place.”       

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Luna Botanicals also plans to host botany-based art classes on the plaza. 

“Those types of partnerships are really building awareness that Canal Place is going above and beyond the retail portion of what we’re about,” said Manzella. “What would've been a bit unconventional ten years ago, is now regarded as the more necessary approach to the success of today's shopping centers.”

Mind your business

According to an article from Entrepreneur magazine that was published at the end of last year’s holiday season, offline sales in 2017 were ten times higher than online sales in the U.S. 

However, at the time, online commerce was growing three times faster than offline commerce. 
The report also revealed that 67-percent of millennials prefer shopping online, and that 59-percent of customers saw product online before they saw it in a store. 

Because of these statistics, brick-and-mortar businesses have been forced to update their sales strategies. Some have been more successful than others.

As the president and co-founder of the New Orleans-based company Locally, Mike Massey has helped national brands like New Balance attract customers who may be inclined to purchase products online.

“We are optimizing the path for a shopper who's doing their product research online, to find the right store to go to, to make their purchase,” said Massey, who’s also the owner of Massey’s Outfitters. 

“What's critically important right now is to give customers a complete experience,” said Massey. “What Canal Place is doing is encouraging consumers to get in their car and drive there, because consumers have the means to shop at 11 at night, and that's very convenient for them.”

Small gestures from retailers, such as offering a shopper a glass of wine, can make a big difference, said Massey. 

“Stores have to make themselves better, and more appealing; there has to be more of a social experience to go shopping in a store, rather than just purely a transactional experience,” he said. “If you're a bad retailer, if your store is unfriendly, you’re basically cutting yourself off to consumers, because they can get anything you sell to their house more than likely by the next day.”

He also stressed the importance of understanding how clients shop. They are not “locked into one way of thinking,” he said, explaining how consumers are likely open to perusing their options both online and offline.

For example, one of his clients, Patagonia, sold their merchandise wholesale, in their own stores, via mail orders, and online, so they could accommodate the shopping preferences of a diverse demographic. 

“The more ways you interact with consumers, the more likely it is they're going to walk into your store. That's the bottom line,” he said.

Resolutions for the new year

Although most retailers in Canal Place offer their products online, Manzella believes making the trip to their bright, downtown complex remains the better option. 

“You have the ability to walk into the store, feel, and touch the merchandise; you can look at several options, make a purchase, and take it home with you that day,” she said. “You also have the overall experience.”

It seems their people-centered approach is already working, Manzella says, citing a strong Thanksgiving weekend. Retailers reported double digit increases, over prior years. 

“We're happy about the brisk response that we're seeing, and we're looking forward to the remainder of the year,” she shared. “We're also excited about what 2019's going to bring.”

A Louis Vuitton shop will open in February of 2019, and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) will host a concert series this summer. Other projects are in the works. 

“Our customers will see an ongoing development of partnerships throughout 2019,” said Manzella. “They’ll bring Canal Place to that next level of what we want to offer to the community.”


By Suzanne Pfefferle Tafur, Biz New Orleans associate news editor

Canal Place party photos by Tim Gendron

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