The structural shift in shopping habits due to of the pace of technological change is an area that shopping centres must address and capitalise on.

The structural shift in shopping habits due to of the pace of technological change is an area that shopping centres must address and capitalise on.

The rate of change is exhilarating. It is astonishing to think that a 2006 British Council of Shopping Centres’ report ‘Online Retailing’ had no mention of smartphones, yet only this week the BRC predicted that half of online sales this Christmas would come from mobile devices. Despite the speed and ease with which we have all come to rely on our pocket supercomputers, it is easy to forget quite how recent this technology is. This presents its own challenges: there is no precedent for how to respond to this new reality, all we know is that we need to keep pace.

A recent study by Google concluded that 72% of smartphone users now use their devices while shopping. Whilst consumers become increasingly tech savvy, demanding more from the retail experience, landlords are looking for ways to be an active participant in the new retail world. This sentiment was clearly echoed in the Grimsey high street review that the shopping experience today needs to be driven in part by technology.

As landlords, I think we have to remind ourselves that our role is to harness this trend, seeing it not as a threat but as an opportunity, and provide an environment within which our retailers’ technologies can thrive. Undertaken in the right way, we can enhance retailers’ interaction with potential customers, and support their brand. We can become an active participant and supporter of our tenants’ omnichannel strategies, all whilst collecting data and information on shopping habits which would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

At Hammerson, one of our most recent initiatives is an app, ‘Kudos’, which is designed to combine the benefits of new technology with the shopping centre experience. Developed with the shopper journey in mind to encourage loyalty, it sends users real time offers from retailers and updates as soon as they walk through the door of one of our centres, as well as bespoke promotions based on users’ selected preferences and regular shopping habits. In an industry first, the app also connects with our own parking technology, providing users with real time parking offers which can be scanned at the machines to deliver offers. The download and usage stats in its first week surpassed even our own high expectations, showing how receptive consumers are to this technology.

Kudos, and other innovations are part of a broader strategy. Blending the digital with the physical is an attractive proposition: physical boundaries limit what we can provide in our centres, but in the digital world we can theoretically do anything, augmenting the reality of our shopping centres with the virtual reality of the online world. Through innovation we can offer our visitors an experience not available elsewhere, driving traffic to our centres ordinarily unreachable by the usual retail marketing campaigns.

As a landlord we realise that we need to change our thinking, the people who walk through our doors are no longer shoppers but visitors, our buildings are no longer just shopping centres, but destinations. Technology does not sound the death knell for our industry, more it is the best opportunity we have ever had to entice people through the doors and keep them there for longer by filling the gap of knowledge between consumer and retailer with real time interaction. Our customers are no longer tied to computers, powerful smartphones mean we can continue to innovate and ensure that the shopping centre of the future provides an unrivalled experience.

It’s exciting to think what could be achieved.

  • David Atkins, Hammerson chief executive