Digital transformation has affected virtually all industries in one form or another, but where it has arguably had the biggest impact is in retail.
Traditional high street shops now face a constant battle to get people through the doors, as more and more shoppers turn to online environments thanks to the rapid growth of digitally native retailers such as eBay, Amazon and Asos.
As well as creating problems for the brick-and-mortar retailers themselves, this trend has also impacted physical shopping centres. After all, if people stop choosing to shop in-store, the role of the shopping centre effectively become defunct.
This is the challenge facing Westfield, the shopping centre operator that currently has two facilities in London – located in Shepherds Bush and Stratford – boasting a combined visitor count of around 75 million each year.
“We’re a physical operating system for retailers to operate in,” explained Westfield CIO Matt Sharp at a Cisco-hosted Internet of Things (IoT) event in London earlier this year. “We are intrinsically linked to our retailers to provide footfall for them in the physical environment.
“What we’ve got to do is work with those retailers to create an experience at the shopping centre. If all of retail moves to an online, clickable transaction, that voids our position in the market at a shopping centre because no-one will visit. So we’ve tried to enhance, as much as possible, the physical experience.”
And the key to enhancing this experience, as it is in most industries, is data. More specifically, it’s about collecting information on individuals and groups of customers so that visits can be personalised.
Through the collection of data, Westfield can gain a deeper understanding of its customer base and generate insights into how customers use the centres and then create personalised experiences based on this information.
“We are increasingly trying to understand real-time dynamic traffic flows and trying to get an insight into who the individuals are, not necessarily from a personal perspective, but what type of individual are you? What group do you fall into and how do we influence your day? How do we make that better for you and how do we provide insight to influence your retail experience?” said Sharp.
This data could include things like age, the time spent in the centre, the number of previous visits and a plethora of other information that is geared towards improving the customer experience so that customers visit more often, stay for longer and, ultimately, spend more money.
“What the retailers want to know is where are they in the pecking order,” Sharp explained. “Of everyone that comes into the shopping centre, where do they go first, where are they likely to spend and how does their pocket spend deteriorate throughout the day?
“So is it that the first store they go into will have 90 percent of spend and 10 percent is left for the rest of the day? That’s an insight that we are trying to provide to our retailers, so that they can maximise their opportunities. We need to be able to collect that data, store that data and package that data.”
The ultimate goal is to bring together the customer experience and the retail journey to create a seamless interaction between shopping centre, retailer and consumer.
People have quickly become accustomed to services like Amazon or Google where they “intrinsically understand who you are, understand your history and your buying preferences and tailor the retail experience to you”, but the physical world of retail has so far been slow to catch up.
The challenge is to recreate that digital experience in the real world. “Walking into a physical environment should be no different,” Sharp said. “So we would like to think we can get an understanding of who our customers are, either at an individual level or as a collection of customer segments, to then be able to tailor that customer experience.
“Hopefully that encourages you to come back more and more and therefore spend more money with our retailers.”
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