Knowing your customer remains core in changing retail landscape

Vanessa Orth

As we head into 2018, amid the current economic climate and continued disruption that is surrounding us, one thing is for sure: our future success will depend on how well we know our customers, how we exceed their expectations and how we partner with our retailers to deliver long-term success.

As the world evolves, so do our customers and their expectations are higher and more exacting than ever before. The speed of change is not slowing down, so we need to shift gears to create businesses that are agile, flexible and adaptable to respond.

Shopping centres can no longer be the places of the past; we need to evolve, challenge and innovate faster than ever before to create places of the future –places where customers have a sense of belonging, where they can connect with one another and where our retailers can be as productive as possible.

At GPT we are in constant search of the world’s newest trends, retail themes and experiences to bring them all together in a way that is relevant to the local communities in which we operate.

We are the curators

Our role as property owners moves beyond management to curation, curation of product, place and programming. Customers are looking for inspiration, excitement, connection and experiences that are memorable and resonate with their sense of self. It is our role to bring multiple and diverse partners together to deliver something awesome.

We need to be bold in how we bring our places to life, we need to be the story tellers for our unique and individual assets.

It is about immediacy for educated and expectant consumers

You would think understanding your customer should be easy enough – some market research and customer feedback, then set and forget for the next couple of years. Maybe that worked in the past, but today it seems like the insights you had about the customer five weeks ago is irrelevant as their expectations and behaviours have already changed.

The research we previously invested in is too slow, too generic and too labour intensive – today is about now, what’s the consumer doing now, right now! How are they behaving, where are they going and what are they doing? We need to understand how are customers choosing to spend their time and money.

Understanding and responding to consumer behaviour is one of the biggest challenges that we have. Through the use of technology and data we are better able to understand the past which is now enabling us to begin to predict the future.

We are in exciting times and the future of our industry will be determined not only by our customers but how quickly we respond to their ever changing needs and expectations.

Over the past several years we have focused on ensuring that we have solid foundations for our digital and data analytics platforms. We have invested and built our capabilities and expertise in the technology and data space. Connecting our technology platforms has enabled us to gain a greater understanding of our customers, how they are behaving and what is influencing their decisions.

These tools are changing the way we do business. It is evolving our relationships with our customers, retailers and our communities and is allowing us to make more informed and quicker decisions about our future.

In 2017 we invested significant resources into building a data warehouse, which has brought together data sources from across the business into one central location. This has allowed the whole business to have access to and visualise data in new ways to identify opportunities that were previously unknown to us because they were buried deep in separate spreadsheets and systems.

Like most organisations we have learnt some really valuable lessons throughout our data journey. What’s been most important is that it’s a never-ending journey; we are constantly ingesting new data sources and working with our teams to evolve and unlock insights from this platform.

As a business it has required us to enhance our current skills, change our thinking and be more open to failure as we test and trial new concepts. We have to be more agile and responsive, if an opportunity exists it needs to be actioned quickly or the opportunity is lost.

As we partner with our retailers in this space we are gaining valuable insights that are beginning to unlock immense value that is bringing us closer to both our customers.

With so many options available at their fingertips, the future of ‘blended retail’ will be about providing the consumer the right solution, at the right time, in the right environment to meet their needs, whether that be online or offline.

We have an important role to play in overcoming the barriers they face and creating a compelling reason for them to invest their time and their wallet in our assets.

Curiosity will unlock value

We believe that a curious mind is critical for the evolution of our retail assets and our business.

We are challenging our teams to be curious: curious about our customers, about retail and to ask the difficult and strange questions. We are giving them permission to take some risks, to try something new and push the boundaries because only with trial and risk do you unlock a new retail future.

Over the past several years we’ve used our data to create new products and services to meet the ever-changing expectations of our customers.

It’s a partnership at its core

We continue to collaborate with a number of our retailers and external partners. By collectively sharing data and insights we are able to work effectively together to drive consumer conversion and retailer sales productivity.

Similarly, we have started working closely with a major retail partner that we have a trusted relationship with, where we are sharing data to gain a deeper understanding of in-store conversion, in-store behaviour and spend.

We are working together on a number of projects to test and trial different initiatives that will drive increased conversion and sales for this retailer. Together we are learning more about each other’s business and how we can influence and change behaviour to drive productivity. This initiative is built on trust and transparency, and a commitment to the evolution of the retailer/property owner relationship.

Recently we have been trialling targeted marketing campaigns focused on converting key customer groups in-centre and in-store based on their previous behaviour. One example of this was a recent campaign in partnership with digital payments platform Afterpay and one of our retailers at Highpoint.

By collectively using the retailers, Afterpay and our own digital platforms to target the millennial market with customised content, we were able to drive visitation to the centre and into the retailer whilst encouraging use of Afterpay. This low-cost campaign resulted in a 33 per cent increase in sales on the day for the retailer and a 70 per cent increase in the use of Afterpay in store.

It is these partnerships that are helping us to understand our customers better than ever before, what will and won’t make them cross the lease line and more importantly what will drive sales.

Creating the retail playground

Whilst the rapid advances in technology and mobility has created a globally connected world enabling real time access to global events, what is becoming increasing important is the need to connect at a local level.
People may have a global outlook, but want to belong and connect to their local community.

We are seeing this in our centres. At Rouse Hill Town Centre in Sydney’s northwest, we held several large community events in 2017. We saw an enthusiastic community response to the first ever ‘Hills Illuminate’ we hosted at the centre in partnership with the Hills Shire Council, which was one of Sydney’s largest Christmas-themed light installation events.

During the year we also hosted our first health and fitness event, the ‘Be You, Be Well’ festival at Rouse Hill Town Centre, which included workshops, seminars, 20 pop-up retailers and a series of events celebrating everything health, fitness and well being.

The success of this event reinforced the importance for people to feel and be connected to something that reflects who they are, what is important to them and give them access to new and emerging trends.

The demand from consumers about the type of products and services they are wanting to see in our centres continues to evolve. Understanding fads versus trends is critical to determine how much time, effort and money to invest and incubate these new concepts.

We need to continually ask ourselves “How do we maintain momentum in exciting our customers; how do we ensure that we are providing the best retail on offer, globally and locally and how do we meet and exceed our customers’ expectations?”

Last year we launched a new incubator concept at Highpoint called ‘In:Transit’, which contains purpose-built shipping containers that host an ongoing series of curated pop-up shops showcasing emerging and cult brands.

The precinct is a great example of our team making the most of public space while enhancing the retail experience. This concept allows us to evolve the retail mix and reinvigorates the offer creating a point of difference and another reason to visit the centre.

At Melbourne Central we recently welcomed Secret Sneaker, an online retailer who opened their first physical store. This new concept sells collector sneakers and merchandise using a commission based model.

They were introduced as a pop-up concept in the centre and over several months the team worked with them to incubate and develop the concept that you see today. This is a brand that has curated a community and brought them together in one place to celebrate everything that is sneakers. This is about people connecting with like-minded people over something they are truly passionate about.

We cannot predict what the future will bring. But we are certain that the key to our future success will come by making sure we deepen our understanding of our customers, respond to their ever changing needs and work with our existing, new and emerging retailers to leverage the possibilities.

This article first appeared in the 2018 CEO Outlook Annual Review in Shopping Centre News.