Thrive to Survive

Rob Shaw, managing director EMEA at Fluent Commerce talks the tech-led future for traditional retail

In recent months, consumers have had little option but to explore a burgeoning choice of digital shopping options. But with the reopening of retail comes new opportunities and a public excited by the opportunity to experience the enjoyment that only comes from shopping in person.

Despite these huge difficulties, Rob Shaw, managing director for Europe, Middle East, and Africa region at cloud-native order management company, Fluent Commerce, says that savvy shopping centre operators around the globe are devising innovative strategies to maintain this historically successful business model:

“For instance, whilst the acquisition and reinvigoration of struggling brands as anchor tenants is an innovative strategy, leveraging technology to join tenant brands into virtual networks where they can scale services, including fulfilment, should form part of the recovery strategy for every shopping centre.”

He believes it is useful to view this approach as delivering ‘Shopping Centres-as-a-Service’, whereby consumers are offered a fully integrated physical/digital experience that makes shopping frictionless and fun. In some places, he says, the physical retail experience is already being built around shopping centres that work as virtual data sharing platforms, connecting directly with consumers to offer creative and engaging real-time personalised experiences.

In many ways ,this tech-led innovation has been a work in progress for some time, as  shopping centres have become increasingly experienced at utilising data from mobile apps, PoS systems, loyalty cards, WiFi beacons and networks to understand how people shop and make use of retail spaces.

“What’s now changing more rapidly,” says Shaw, “is that shopping centre operators are using mobile commerce to provide consumers with interactive apps that not only help them plan their visits, but then benefit from an added layer of fingertip convenience.”

In the Westfield London shopping centre, for instance, visitors can now take advantage of smartphone-enabled parking and food ordering, use their devices to view product information and pricing and also ‘click to call’ retailers that stock items they’re interested in buying.

Other shopping centre operators are examining ways to implement low-cost shared logistics services that make it easy for customers to purchase items online or instore, with the option of home delivery, in-store collection or from kerbside-pickup parking stalls. For some, this also includes enabling an endless-aisle distribution strategy that can deliver in 24 hours or less, helping them to compete more effectively with their online-only rivals.

Shaw says that operators that are able to identify, manage and exploit the power of all their data sources will be well placed to help retailers deliver a more personalised and targeted service to customers, and perhaps most important of all, unify online and offline shopping experiences.

“Leveraging shared infrastructure will be key,” he says. “Whether it’s acting as fulfilment or logistics hubs for their retail partners, blending these capabilities with an array of data-led services will open the door to new and engaging consumer experiences. In doing so, we’re moving towards a future where shopping centres are designed to generate the repeat footfall that retailers need to thrive and survive.”

This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.

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