The Mars candy brand opened a store, its sixth, in the nation’s largest shopping complex
M&M’s plans to open another store in Berlin later this year. Courtesy M&M’s
Despite talk of shopping malls fading away as people turn to the internet to purchase goods and services, M&M’s is investing in the future of physical retail.
Earlier this month, the 80-year-old Mars brand opened a store in Minnesota’s Mall of America, the nation’s largest shopping complex. Filled with T-shirts, pillows, pajamas and socks, the 24,000-square-foot space contains nearly 3,000 SKUs and employs around 75 people. The second floor features a wall of clear tubes filled with approximately 8,000 pounds of M&M’s candy.
This is M&M’s sixth store. Its other outlets operate in Orlando, Fla., Las Vegas, New York, London and Shanghai. The brand plans to open another store in Berlin later this year.
So, why Mall of America? Because of geographical location, explained Patrick McIntyre, director of global retail at Mars Retail Group.
“We were really missing the middle of the country,” McIntyre told Adweek, noting the company already has a brick-and-mortar presence near the nation’s two coasts. “I think the biggest brands create the best moments in the biggest places, and there’s nothing bigger than Mall of America,” he added.
Shopping centers have seen a decline in visitors since the coronavirus outbreak, and Mall of America is no exception.
After seeing a slight uptick in guests throughout 2019 and early 2020, Mall of America’s year-over-year foot traffic fell by more than 60% in March 2020, according to the data analytics firm Placer.ai. Numbers have remained depressed since, though they are improving. Visits in April 2021 were down 18% compared to April 2019.
“I have every confidence people are going to leave their homes in droves when the all-clear whistle is sounded,” said Eric Daniel, creative director at brand consulting and design firm Landor & Fitch, which partnered with M&M’s to help build its latest store.
More than 25,000 shoppers visited the M&M’s store in Mall of America during its opening weekend of May 1-2, according to the company.
For shoppers interested in seeing the store but perhaps still concerned about visiting it in person, M&M’s made a virtual experience to browse the space at a safe distance.
The technology exists for another purpose, too, according to Daniel. “If you don’t know why you would come to the M&M’s store, that virtual tour is a giant motivator to get you there in person, because things are always better when you’re there,” he added.
Stores as immersive billboards
When M&M’s opened its first store in the late ’90s—its Las Vegas location—the move put it in the “forefront of CPG brands creating their own retail experiences and exploring the world of direct-to-consumer,” said Daniel.
M&M’s certainly isn’t alone in using stores to delight fans and fuel growth. Last August, Sour Patch Kids opened a 3,300-square-foot space in lower Manhattan. Hershey’s also has a retail location in Times Square about a block away from M&M’s New York store.
“The idea of using a physical location to build brand awareness is totally sound,” Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis Groupe, told Adweek. “At its best, a flagship is a way more immersive experience than a billboard and it pays you back some money, so it’s actually cheaper.”
At the same time, Goldberg questioned the timing of M&M’s store opening, since many brands are dedicating more resources to digital channels while moving away from “extravagant flagship experiences” aimed at tourists, he said. “Foot traffic in stores is just down, so however many eyeballs you thought were going to see your cool M&M’s point-of-purchase display pre-pandemic, 10% less people are seeing it now,” Goldberg added.
Generating revenue online, of course, is also important to M&M’s. Its Mall of America store contains many Instagram-ready sections designed to lead shoppers “from social moment to social moment,” Daniel said.
Among the most popular names in chocolate, M&M’s controlled a 9.8% share of sales on Amazon in April, making it the third most-purchased brand behind competitors Hershey’s (19%) and Reese’s (15.9%), according to estimates from e-commerce analytics firm Profitero.