Shopping and retail centres are in decline. Recently, the BBC reported that over 200 shopping centres in the UK were in crisis. In the 1970s, 1980s and even the 90s, shopping malls were the lifeblood of a town. They were the social media of the time where teenagers gathered to “hang out” and to which people of all generations flocked for the sheer convenience of having everything in one place. It was a community, the lively hub of a town centre. With the explosion of online retailers however, these stalwarts of the British high street were faced with possible extinction. Despite the fact that the writing was on the wall however, little was done to reinvent them. Blake Morgan from Forbes magazine, summarised the problem faced by the US counterparts particularly well;
“it is a mass-experience tailored for no one”
And this is true. Think about why online retailers are so successful – aside from the fact that it is ridiculously convenient to shop online (Amazon Prime has ruined me for physical shopping) the first thing a shopper goes to do is personalise the experience. Filters on (reviews, ratings, price), helpful suggestions browsed, a roundup of products you may want to buy clicked. The experience is tailored to the individual and all sales opportunities are therefore maximised. With ASOS, you don’t even need to pay for the product if you don’t feel like it – their Klarna capability allows you to buy countless outfits, try them on, decide on their suitability and return them all without any money leaving your account.
Think then, about the physical shopping experience; the average shopping / retail centre you go to is a collection of business entities that don’t necessarily have any relationship with each other.
Shopping and Retail centres are vast in terms of real estate but essentially they comprise of disparate business outlets under one roof. There’s a cinema, numerous restaurants, a variety of branded shops, some random stalls, a creche, an arcade – but all these elements exist in a silo because the centre is the landlord and they are the tenants. That’s often the extent of the relationship. But should it be? In the modern world a lack of connectivity is impermisssable. Connecting people and engaging with them is the only way to maximise potential sales opportunities. So imagine if one, overarching entity, was responsible for the centre’s identity and that identity pulled all the disparate ventures within it into one cohesive whole. That entity would be able to track the customer’s journey through the centre and signpost things that may be of interest to them. This would circumnavigate the fact that customers currently walk around with their eyes glued firmly to their phones, not engaging with the shopping centre around them. The strategy for selecting the brands, businesses and leisure opportunities the shopping centre hosts will also have to change. Rather than giving retail / leisure space to the business that paid the most, businesses could be chosen based on their overall contribution to the cohesion of the centre as a whole. Imagine an experience where you walk into a shopping centre around noon, connect to their WiFi and immediately have a summary of highlights happening right there and then, all handily detailed on your screen. It’s lunch time, are you peckish? No problem, here are the best deals in the foodcourt today. Looking for a pair of shoes? These outlets have got new season stock / major discounts on today. Want to avoid the queues? These retailers are currently very busy so feel free to visit other shops before looping back to check these stores out at a quieter time to minimise queuing. The possibilities to capture the shoppers attention, imagination and loyalty are endless.
Following Amazon’s example, supermarkets are trialling queue-free checkouts; some American shopping centres are introducing drone-delivery, where the item you’re searching for in the store gets delivered right to you rather than the customer having to embark on a treasure hunt to find a needle in a haystack; sportswear stores are investigating using Virtual Reality to simulate various weather conditions to help you pick the product that suits your exact needs. The list goes on. And as the offline and online experience becomes progressively more blurred, as experiences become tailored as standard, customers will no longer be delighted by these leaps in customer experience – they will come to expect them. So if shopping centres and retail parks fall behind the curve, visitor numbers will drop further and the inevitable fallout will occur.
WiFi is the foundation of providing a tailored customer experience – and millennials spend more on experience than on anything else. Whilst shopping centres may not be able to immediately introduce VR, AR, AI, and other tech acronyms, providing guest WiFi to visitors and utilising it to the max in order to understand customers, tailor experiences and ultimately give customers not only what they want, but what they themselves didn’t know they wanted, has the potential to revitalise the retail sector and bring much needed life back to our shopping centres and towns. Not taking this opportunity is a gamble that won’t pay off.
If you’d like to know how Inkspotwifi can create a seamless WiFi network within your shopping centre or retail park and help you harness it to its full potential, contact us now for an informal chat.