Ecommerce.co.za

The data-driven mall

by Rodney Weidemann
As a precinct-focused real estate investment and development firm, Liberty Two Degrees co-owns a number of property portfolios. These SA-based assets are mostly retail-focused and include Sandton City and Eastgate malls.

The company focuses on attracting quality brands into its malls, with its anchor tenant in these centres always one of the major local retailers. According to Pat Masithela, CIO at Liberty Two Degrees, as the mall owner, the company provides its tenants with infrastructure, as well as playing a big role in attracting customers into the malls.

“For us, technology is key, and we see digital transformation as a means to accelerate our broader company strategy, which is to create great experiences for tenants, to develop thriving malls, and to deliver great shopping experiences for customers. At the same time, we want to provide our own people with the requisite tools to improve efficiencies and effectiveness,” he says.

“So one of the first questions we ask when undertaking any such initiative is: what can we do to enhance our tenants’ operations? We also have to take into account the evolution of the customers’ needs and demands. So, for example, we may look to implement a 5G network, as this will enable tenants to implement their own smart solutions, to benefit end-customers.”

Internally, adds Masithela, the company has recognised the centrality of data, which means collecting as much as possible in order to glean whatever insights it can. This is why Masithela and his team have invested time and effort into developing a data lake, so that relevant data can be made available to staff, to help them make the best decisions.

“We also share some of these insights with our tenants. While they’re well aware of what goes on in their own store, tenants aren’t always as aware of what goes on within the broader mall. Such insights can prove complementary to the tenants’ data.

“In addition, we need to be responsive to new end-customer needs, as these emerge. A good example is removing friction from processes where possible. So a customer wanting to purchase a Sandton City gift card shouldn’t have to come to the mall to do that – which is why we’re deploying digital vouchers that can be purchased online.”

Apps and AI

Masithela says his organisation is currently looking into the benefits of AI, and has deployed several solutions.

“For example, we can provide tenants with much more granular detail around what occurs within the mall. This could be information such as which entrances are used the most, the manner in which customers circulate through the mall, or other similarly relevant insights.

“By bringing together different data sources, we’re positioning ourselves to develop deeper insights from the information available. For example, understanding customer flow through the mall not only helps with security, it also enables us to avoid potential bottlenecks, especially during peak periods.”

The company is also piloting an app geared at significantly enhancing its operations and improving engagement with tenants.

Another technology aspect Masithela is driving, under the strategic pillar called ‘smart spaces’, is a concept to create malls filled with smart technologies. “It’s important to choose these technologies carefully. It’s always tempting to deploy the latest and greatest solutions, but it’s crucial to first ask how this technology actually contributes to furthering your strategic ambitions. If it doesn’t, then you’re wasting your money,” he says.

“A key part of our smart approach involves the IoT, as this contributes significantly to improving the customer experience. An example would be using this to determine why large groups of customers are regularly found waiting for a particular lift. This knowledge enables us to investigate and clearly understand why this happens. We can then address the matter – perhaps through improved signage – to make these people aware of other nearby exits or elevators.”

When combined with AI, he adds, smart technologies for the mall are all about making life easier for the customers and tenants – whether it’s sharing information about specials being run by tenants, or assisting customers via smart parking methods to park closest to the store they want to visit, it’s all about enhancing the shopping experience.

“For example, one AI-based solution we have utilises smart cameras to help us understand the movement and flow of customers, as well as their numbers. As we start to expand our use of the solution, we intend using machine learning to obtain far greater detail about such movements,” he says.

“To this end, we will use anonymised data that can, for example, tell us when and where an individual entered the mall, which area or areas they spent time in, and which specific exit they utilised when leaving. We can then utilise this type of data to benefit tenants – providing them with information they can leverage to potentially implement specials to attract customers with a particular movement profile, as one example.”

He says Liberty Two Degrees has learned a lot of lessons through this digital transformation journey – the most critical being to focus on developing the digital transformation strategy as a companywide initiative.

“After all, this can’t simply be an IT-focused initiative, because unless the entire company is transforming, all you will achieve is to create new bottlenecks. True digital success, we have learned, can only be achieved with the full buy-in of the organisation.

Republished with permission from ITWeb Limited

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