This week at Shoptalk, I've been speaking with several commerce innovators about the impact of technology on every type of business. Facebook proudly shared its latest innovations in social commerce. Google spoke on the power of shopable YouTube Videos. Amazon made compelling arguments on why they are an ideal technology platform partner. And nearly everyone reinforced the critical importance of a mobile-first strategy.
One of the more intriguing keynotes, however, came from an unexpected tech-forward commerce innovator: Westfield Malls.
"We once saw technology as a threat to malls", says Steven M. Lowy, Co-CEO of Westfield Corp, "but now we see it has an enhancement. We're bridging the digital with the physical and have made significant investments into what we're calling the Westfield Cloud."
Building the Mall of the Future
"We're a 57 year old company that needed to change and adapt," Mr. Lowy explained. "Westfield is essentially getting back to its roots. Malls first started because no one retailer could afford the real-estate, so we aggregated the cost across multiple retailers. Today, we've built a digital platform along the same lines."
If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching Westfield's concept video that is now a reality (at least in pilot form) according to Mr. Lowy. Westfield has invested heavily in technology so that they can deliver a more powerful customer experience that leverages a customer's mobile device with embedded technologies such as beacons throughout the mall. Mr. Lowy says that anyone from brands to retailers to third-party solutions providers can plug into Westfield's technology (i.e. the "Westfield Cloud"), as it was built from the ground up to serve this purpose.
With 34 shopping centers worldwide, Westfield houses more than 6,500 retailers and 400 million annual customer visits responsible for more than $16 billion in retail sales last year. Placing the customer at the center of everything has substantial ramifications on the future of retail.
Data Personalizes Shopping
Without technology, every shopper is essentially treated the same and this is a big mistake in retail environments. If you're a mom with kids, you have very different needs than a single female. With better data insights and a connection to your mobile phone Westfield can tailor the mall experience to meet your specific needs, weather that's to find a specific item in a specific store, explore new product lines or hunt for deals. Westfield is effectively bringing more of what's worked online into physical retail.
A Mall as a Warehouse
"A mall is basically a big warehouse," Mr. Lowy explained. "We connect consumers to these warehouses by bridging the digital with the physical." Think about it. Much of today's digital engagements are fueling desire. When someone wants to buy something, the fastest way is often to drive into a store and buy it. While many business models have been constructed around ordering online and picking up at stores or having the item(s) delivered, businesses understand the power of physical retail and the act of touching and feeling an item before a purchase is made.
Today the fastest way for people to transact is still to enter a physical store. What needs to change, however, is the in-store experience. By integrating technology, retailers can deliver more personal and therefore more meaningful shopping experiences which will lead to increased loyalty and advocacy.
There's a lot to enhancing the customer experience and Westfield is leveraging it's technology in new and interesting ways that benefit its retail partners. The thinking being that by supporting the digital needs of its retailers and customers, Westfield can better deliver on its mission of connecting consumers with retailers.
Bridging Digital with the Physical
We're living in a digital world and people expect to seamlessly move between their devices and the physical world. Mobile phones are now your remote control that empowers you to change your real-world experiences. Westfield understands that by bridging digital with physical retail they are able to enhance the shopping experience and thereby support the growth of their retail partners and deliver on the needs of their customers.