The Art of Reinvention: Shopping Centres-as-a-Service


The Covid-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns has served to accelerate rapid changes to traditional shopping habits, leaving the shopping centre as we know it faltering and at risk of extinction. Indeed, in the fourth quarter of 2020, shopping centre vacancies increased to 17.1%.

In recent months consumers have had little option but to head online to explore a rich choice of digital shopping options – click and collect, virtual shopping via video, and advanced visualisation technologies like AR/VR that let them digitally ‘test out’ thousands of products. Omnichannel shopping is now an embedded behaviour for consumers of all ages.

However, with non-essential retail reopening on April 12th, shopping centre operators must think of new innovative strategies to drive customers back to stores and maintain this business model: offering integrated physical/digital experiences that make shopping frictionless, pleasurable, and memorable. In fact, some savvy operators are already re-envisioning the shopping centre as a virtual data sharing platform that makes it possible to connect directly with shoppers and deliver real-time personalised experiences.

Get ready for the rise of the shopping centre-as-a-service model that is set to save the shopping centre model and reinvent the future of shopping.

Using technology to join the dots

In recent years, shopping centres have become proficient at utilising data from mobile apps, PoS systems, loyalty cards and WiFi beacons and networks to understand how people shop and move through retail spaces. Now shopping centre operators are pushing the mobile commerce envelope with interactive apps that help shoppers pre-plan their visits and benefit from an added layer of fingertip convenience.

In the UK, visitors to the Westfield London shopping centre can now take advantage of smartphone-enabled parking and food ordering, using devices to view product information and pricing and ‘click to call’ retailers that carry the items they’re interested in. With options to shop online and instantly pick up purchases from stores that are just metres away, organising a day of shopping, dining and entertaining can all be done with just a few clicks. That includes hunting down ‘Instagrammable’ experiences or booking personalised shopping appointments at stores.

Striving to become data brokers who connect individual retailers to deliver the shared services, analytics insights, and technologies that will benefit the collective whole, these forward-thinking operators are harnessing all this data, via a shared infrastructure, to generate insights that enable retailers to create a complete view of every customer’s journey and likely purchasing behaviours.

Initiating value-add services

Many of today’s operators are already conducting trials on ways to initiate low-cost shared logistics services for retailers that make it easy for customers to purchase items online or instore and opt either for home delivery, or collection from ‘pick up’ desks or curbside-pickup parking stalls. For some, this includes enabling an endless-aisle distribution strategy that can deliver in 24 hours or less.

The European retail developer Hammerson is also pioneering new ways to make shopping a more fulfilling experience for customers, utilising AI ‘get the look’ search tools that are integrated into its shopping centre apps. By simply taking photos of fashion items or uploading saved images from their phones, shoppers can locate similar clothing products and be guided to the exact location of items in individual stores.

Others are providing mobile apps that make it easy for retailers to upload promotions or showcase new products that will drive footfall to their stores. Or initiating new pop-up digital spaces that enable brands to create destination events that create a stir through word of mouth and social media.

Towards a more agile future

With shopping centres in troubled waters due to the pandemic and recent changes in consumer shopping habits, shopping centre operators are having to re-evaluate their spaces to deliver the seamless, channel agnostics and personalised experiences that today’s shoppers expect to encounter, in order to increase foot traffic and customer satisfaction.

Those operators that are able to unify all their data sources will be well positioned to help retailers deliver a more personalised and targeted service to customers and unified online-offline experiences.

They’ll also be able to leverage their shared infrastructure to act as fulfilment or logistics hubs for their retail partners, optimising their behind-the-scenes operations with an array of data-led services that create exciting new-style shopping opportunities for consumers. Whether that’s using data collected from social media to promote items that are trending in real-time, confirming the availability of items in stores near consumers, or unleashing new AI platforms that make it easier for retailers to better promote their products.

Designed to generate the repeat footfall that retailers need to thrive and survive, shopping centre operators can’t act as independent businesses simply connected by a shared structure anymore. They must leverage a raft of data and technologies to reclaim their place as the top destination for shoppers.

Rob Shaw, MD EMEA at Fluent Commerce

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