Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
There was once a time when a shopping centre operator might have regarded is tenants as its primary customers. But as consumers have come to find new options for where and how they spend their time and money, centre operators have had to better understand consumer needs, and make better decisions about how they meet them.
For multifaceted property company, Mirvac, which operates 15 shopping centres around Australia, that has meant getting better data about the behaviour of its visitors. And to do that it has turned to a technology that also benefits those same visitors: Free Wi-Fi.
“One of our roles as landlords is to promote the centres as a whole, and the retailers that are contained within,” Mirvac’s national marketing manager, Paul Pozzobon, tells CMO.
“We have always had databases that we have built organically, through things like competitions. But you never have the quantity of numbers in those databases to have a massive effect on the retail business. Once you start segmenting those databases and getting that down to an offer that is relevant to that customer, the hit rate can be quite low.”
Mirvac’s Wi-Fi network, deployed in conjunction with technology partner, Skyfii, has so far been installed at half of its centres, starting 18 months ago with its Broadway (NSW) and Orion Springfield Central (Queensland) properties.
Pozzobon says the Wi-Fi network is delivering two levels of data. Firstly, Mirvac can collect personal data entered by visitors at the time when they sign up for the service, which is fed into its overall customer database.
“So far, that has allowed us to increase the size of our portfolio database by over 150 per cent,” Pozzobon says. “And as we learn more about these customers it makes us able to also then segment the databases and send specific offers to customer segments who have asked for particular information.”
Secondly, even if a visitor does not sign up, the technology can remember the anonymous MAC address of each device that enters its network.
“That gives us the ability to look at trends in that space – whether or not they are returning customers, new customers to the business, and how long they are staying in our shopping centres,” Pozzobon says.
“Skyfii technology arms us with more accurate measurement with some on these metrics, which are always talked about but were never really measured scientifically. Length of time is important for some retailer in making a decision as to whether they come to a centre.
“And they are all things that help inform our strategic decisions and even change the way we mix our centres and lease our centres in the future. Skyfii technology gives us a greater ability to understand how people are utilising and moving within our malls ,and therefore help us make good decisions about strengthening precincts, or not.”
But it is the information collected at sign-up that Pozzobon has found most useful.
“Every one of the properties in our portfolio has a very distinct customer profile, and different customer segmentations within it,” Pozzobon says. “By enabling us to have more information about the specific customers who come into the centres, day in and day out, it helps us unlock value and get to know that trade area. And that can only lead to more positive results for the landlord and the customer. It means that we will ultimately be delivering them the stuff that they want in the location they want.
“One of the biggest changes you are seeing in our shopping centres is they are well and truly morphing into being more urban central focus points for their communities and increasingly focusing on entertainment and lifestyle ideas, like restaurant precincts. So Skyfii just goes naturally hand-in-hand with that.”
While the benefit to Mirvac might be from the data it receives, Skyfii’s managing director, John Rankin, says it is important to keep the consumer’s experience in mind also.
“Wi-Fi has been an amenity that has been provided in shopping centres for many years, with the increasing use of data of data and the expectations of people to watch videos and have a quality high-speed service,” Rankin says. “The larger telcos within Australia and across the world are looking at environments where they are high concentrations of people, and working with those property groups to really understand what quality of service needs to be provided in those environments.”
Pozzobon says there is no point Mirvac providing Wi-Fi if it can’t provide an excellent, easy-to-use experience.
“It’s no longer considered a luxury to have Wi-Fi – it is basically a hygiene factor in our retail assets now, similar to having a food court or restrooms,” he says. “We have this ‘always connected’ culture, and customers expect to be connected. And if we want to be that ‘third place’ in a customer’s life apart from their home and workplace, then we need to facilitate connectivity in the best way possible.”
While the results to date have been positive, Pozzobon says there is still much to be done in terms of getting the most out of its new data asset.
“We are at the tip if the iceberg in terms of what we are doing for analysing the data we are getting out of Skyfii,” he says. “We are not quite there yet because we have to build the internal capability in our business to have someone sitting there and looking at the analytics. But where we see it going in the future is helping us in our leasing decisions.”