Online Malls Cover All Bases

Nov 29, 2021

Online Malls Cover All Bases

Originally featured in PropertyEU
Written by Isobel Lee

From transforming internal communications in shopping centres to taking the entire inventory of physical malls online, there are plenty of reasons for retail real estate landlords to embrace the potential of proptech today.

While the owners of Europe's leading bricks and mortar shopping centres remain focused on driving footfall to their assets, there is a growing acknowledgement that supporting retailers' online aspirations can actually be a win-win. For property owners and their tenants, that means finding the right digital partners to fulfill a range of needs.

...Placewise helps malls move online. Another digital platform which is shaping solutions for pandemic times is Placewise, an international malltech firm which has been in growth mode for the past two years. Its international presence was born out of the merger of Denver Placewise and Trondheim Boostcom at the end of 2019, as part of Placewise ambitions to become truly global.

Today, Placewise serves over 1,000 shopping centres across the US, Europe and APAC, offering customer relations (CR) marketing, digital operational tools and e-commerce solutions.

The core of our CR offering is the data layer, explains CEO Peter Tonstad. Our overall approach is to create a direct digital relationship between the shoppers and the shopping centre. Shoppers are given access to exclusive benefits and offers in exchange for opting into a digital programme at the shopping centre.

The typical behavioural data comes from offer redemptions on mobile phones, app usage, Wi-Fi usage, parking systems et cetera - combined with all the possible data sources that our clients have from before, such as footfall data and sales data. The purpose is to leverage the database to encourage shoppers to visit more often and shop more whilst there.

While the focus until now has been using digital tools to drive a mix of physical visits and online sales, Tonstad explains that industry trends - plus the pressures of the pandemic - have forced even bricks-and-mortar-focused retailers to rethink their strategy. His latest bold ambition is to bring the entire inventory of physical shopping centres online, to give shoppers the ultimate choice.

We wanted to help our clients create fully digitally integrated shopping centres, which requires direct integration with retailers for access to product and location-specific inventory data, says Tonstad.

The idea is that all shoppers - both local and further afield - will be able to remotely buy goods from the online inventory of the shopping centre, or drop in to collect prebought purchases. They can also, of course, simply peruse the physical stores in a classic manner (potentially having checked online that the store has the item they want in stock). But the key is, the shopper has more choice.

The obstacles are mostly technical ones. Retailers in general are very enthusiastic about evolving their shopping centre relationship to also include digital. This gives the retailers a new sales channel, and the shopping centres finally become a part of the e-commerce economy, Tonstad explains.

A pilot project is currently running in Norway Kuben Senter Honefoss, as well as Wisconsin's Corners of Brookfield. 'Kuben Senter has around 60 retailers, of which around 55 are relevant for our 'marketplace' offering,' says Tonstad. 'We are also looking at rolling it out in a third pilot in APAC. For each individual market we typically need 100-200 retailers on board to have an attractive consumer offering.'

He adds: 'For retailers, the decision on whether to get involved is fairly simple, as most retailers are relating to a variety of third-party digital sales channels these days.

'The challenge is the variety of different data formats on products and sometimes there is lack of quality inventory data. Our scope is to unify any kind of data format into one marketplace with cross retailer product offering and cross retailer payment and delivery or pick up.'

The retailer response
The most forward-looking retailers already speak this language, as they are already exploring how to leverage their stores better for online sales. Concept and flagship stores with the 'wow' factor in cities have often replaced a portfolio of small shops as fashion brands seek to make their physical footprint really count.

Zara, for example, is making sure that its concept stores stand out by including automated pick-up points, where robotic arms deliver click and collect purchases when customers scan a QR code on a reader. Some of its stores also offer online inventory checks via the brand's official app, so that customer visits aren't wasted. Via the app, they can even pre-book fitting rooms for that bespoke touch.

'its's an exciting time to be exploring mall tech,' Tonstad enthuses. 'To my knowledge, we're now creating the first fully hybrid malls in the world - and there is a lot more innovation to come.