More than half the world uses smartphones and more than one in five of the world’s population has shopped online in the past 30 days. The digital age is here, and shopping mall owners need to embrace it to ensure their retail schemes remain relevant." /> How shopping centres are making themselves fit for the digital age | JLL

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How shopping centres are making themselves fit for the digital age

More than half the world uses smartphones and more than one in five of the world’s population has shopped online in the past 30 days. The digital age is here, and shopping mall owners need to embrace it to ensure their retail schemes remain relevant.

  • Physical stores are being redefined as retail adapts to the digital age 
  • New technologies allow shopping centre owners to provide unique experiences to customers which increase loyalty, engagement, dwell time and spend
  • Increased amounts of data which give landlords a picture of customer habits can impact shopping centre layout and location decisions 
Technology’s impact on digital is reshaping the purpose of traditional bricks-and-mortar stores, as ‘pure play’ online retailers allow people to save time and money by shopping online. Shopping centre landlords can ensure they remain relevant by marrying online and offline and ensuring an interesting tenant mix, to give shoppers a unique experience.

One way some shopping centres are using technology to provide a unique shopping experience is by contacting their visitors directly whilst they shop, sending them personalized, real-time discounts and special offers. 

According to Accenture US survey, more than 50% of shoppers would be open to this, which opens up a world of new data for retail owners about their shoppers and their habits. This data can be analysed to share more personalized offers to visitors, or more broadly, to understand the performance of retailers in the scheme and refine the tenant mix depending on results. 

The Swan Centre in Eastleigh became the first shopping centre in the UK to introduce Bluetooth Low Energy technology, or beacons, to track shoppers’ smartphones to optimize retail operations and send offers and messages to visitors. 

For example, a shopper who returns to a grocery store for the first time in a while may receive a bespoke 10% discount. The attraction of the personalized messages and discounts has resonated with shoppers and the Swan Centre now has more than 2700 user signed up to the system. 

“With the internet at the heart of almost every interaction, offering free WiFi is no longer optional for malls that want to attract shoppers and keep them engaged”, according to Ashlyn Booth, JLL’s Director of Property Marketing in Texas.

21st century shopping centres: Chatbots, Geofences 

Retailers and shopping malls in the USA are also using Geofences to reach customers. This technology works in a similar fashion to beacons and allows visitors to receive messages on their phones related to offers or news about parking spaces or special events. Taco Bell increased sales by 6 percent this year thanks to Geofencing. 

Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, introduced this year in east China's Zhejiang Province, Tao Café. The store offers beverages, fast food and snacks. To make a purchase, shoppers need to scan their phones with Alibaba's Taobao e-commerce app. The bill is paid via the e-payment account on shopper’s smartphone. 

Carrefour experiments with robots. The multinational retailer introduced this year in Spain Pepper, a robot that interacts with customers. Pepper Hola can provide shoppers information about discounts and promotions while Pepper Fun interactively play with children through games. 

For an even more personalized experience, retailers are starting to use Facebook Messenger to communicate with its customers after the social media giant announced in 2016 that the platform could now be used for shopping and communicating directly with brands and shops. As a result, some retailers have created chatbots to speak with clients.
 
H&M is one of the retailers harnessing this technology. The Chatbot asks what the client is looking for and creates an outfit based on personal preferences. 

In 2016 Sephora launched its chatbot on messaging app Kik. To give an enhanced user experience past customer service, the bot gets to know the user, and later shares relevant and interesting content including videos, tutorials and product reviews. 
In some parts of the USA, malls are using new technology to help customers finding the best parking space. Sensors installed in the car park track traffic levels and help to guide shoppers to less occupied areas during peak hours. This improves the customer experience, and they spend less time trying to park their cars and more time in shopping centre. 

Shoppers love real-time promotions

Whilst making data publicly available can seem daunting to some, research undertaken by Accenture in the USA revealed that customers are happy to share their information, and want to receive more and more personalised messages during their visit to the shopping centre. 

According to the survey, 82% of shoppers like to receive automatic discounts at checkout for loyalty points or coupons and 57% of them liked real-time promotions. 

“While shoppers are prepared to offer up a certain amount of personal data, shopping centre owners and retailers need to make sure they don’t cross a line and alienate their audience,” explains Ashlyn Booth. 

Geofencing, chat bots and parking sensors are helping to create 21st century malls that enhance user experience and create places that people want to come to, spend time and money in, and return to. 

As technology continues to develop at such a pace, it will continue to be a key ingredient in creating unique retail destinations in the future.