The acceleration of e-commerce during the past decade and the COVID-19 pandemic left many people wondering if in-person shopping in stores might soon come to an end.
But a key catalyst for e-commerce itself, the rise of technology in the retail sector, is also playing a role in the resiliency of the bricks-and-mortar segment. Technology is increasingly prevalent as owners and managers seek to better understand consumer behaviour, and offer better experiences when they visit to interact in person with products they're interested in purchasing.
The Urban Land Institute Toronto presented a Jan. 25 webinar, moderated by Cadillac Fairview senior vice-president of innovation Laura Manes, that offered executives from five proptech firms an opportunity to introduce their platforms and services and explain how they can help retail property owners drive business.
“Much has been made about the retail apocalypse over the past decade and we have seen massive global investment and energy put into e-commerce, including here in Canada with big players like our home-grown Shopify,” Manes said, “but we are now starting to see things swing in the other direction.
“As a mall operator, I can share that post-pandemic we have seen a huge return in shoppers to stores and malls even though we know they can buy most everything online these days.”
Spacewise is a digital platform that manages, markets and rents out spaces to simplify the process for tenants and landlords to find each other and transact.
Founder and chief executive officer Chalid El Ashker said many tenants are looking for more flexible uses of space and have shorter-term outlooks, so they’re often not looking to enter long-term leases.
“That puts a strain on the existing operations and existing processes that are in place within these properties,” El Ashker noted.
Spacewise offers a property management system and booking engine similar to what hotels use to manage inventory and market rooms.
It lets potential tenants know what shops, pop-up shops, promotional spaces, kiosks, digital signage, ghost kitchens, or storage spaces might be available in an owner’s portfolio.
Showing a price in a listing attracts 60 per cent more views, according to El Ashker, and can result in deals being turned around quickly.
El Ashker said Spacewise is engaged in an artificial intelligence project to recommend appropriate locations to retailers based on foot traffic, sales potential and other factors by using patterns it recognizes.
PLANit Philo is a real estate and placemaking company offering five core services: real advisory; vision planning; product design and management; works of art; and exhibitions and experience.
It plans, designs, creates and curates public and private spaces where people might want to spend time.
PLANit Philo team members have experience in developing real estate, designing space, building works of art, creating exhibitions and leading retail and hospitality brands.
Placemaking is a collaborative process that shapes the public realm to maximize value by facilitating creative thinking, capitalizing on community assets and contributing to the community’s health, happiness and well-being.
PLANit Philo works with clients to define, create, track and measure activities at their site through a strategic intent and action plan that establishes a series of objectives and key results.
The premise is that by accessing more people and engaging more fans, companies can be more profitable.
“We focus on humanity in design, a practice where we design products and projects that are focused on the needs of individuals and communities at large, as opposed to only economic indicators,” said placemaker and change agent Eli Staiman.
He said PLANit Philo was responsible for “everything from curating the marketplaces, the tenant groups, the activations, marketing and sponsorships, decorations and associated art effects.
“What was special about both of them is they focused on one typical powerhouse retail season and how we celebrated more of the humanity behind the season, as opposed to just the dollars and cents of it.”
FastSensor measures foot traffic interactions in physical spaces — including trade shows, experiential activations and retail environments — to help clients create better experiences by learning how people behave and engage with their spaces.
It’s an artificial intelligence-powered, hardware-enabled software as a scalable service ecosystem that gathers, measures, analyzes and delivers foot traffic analytics.
FastSensor smart hardware is placed throughout a space and gathers anonymous, non-personally identifiable information signals from people's electronic devices. It sends data to a cloud server where a machine learning algorithm turns them into analytics that include visitor flow heat maps, dwell time, display engagement and more, on an online dashboard.
Users can then implement improvements throughout the space based on the data.
“We're showing you how people move through space, what they're interested in and what they're excited about, and we're doing this in a completely safe and globally privacy-compliant fashion,” said co-owner and executive vice-president of business development Kalon Welch.
“We know nothing about these people, but we use the law of large numbers and look at how the majority of these folks move through your space, whether it be a shopping centre or a retail store in itself.”
Welch said increasing dwell time by 10 per cent increases revenues by 13 per cent and it often doesn’t require major changes.
“You can see if are you on the right path or the wrong path and you double down on those things that work and you retract those things that do not,” he said.
Mallcomm is a tenant experience and property management platform that enables 24/7 communication between management and retailers. It’s available as a mobile application and a desktop platform that connects a range of retail stakeholders.
Mallcomm provides a real-time picture of what’s happening in a location.
That can enhance security and allow cleaning, maintenance, parking and customer service staff to work closer together with the operations team to provide better service by reporting and managing daily duties and reacting more efficiently to special circumstances.
“You might have hundreds of technologies, but depending on whether you're an asset manager, a shopper, a guest or an office worker, you only have to go to one place to experience everything about that property,” said chief revenue officer Randall McKillop.
“It digitizes all the processes and the workflows for how to experience that property.”
Mallcomm is used at over 360 retail properties in Europe, the United States and Canada by asset managers including Mall of America, Brookfield Properties' Retail Real Estate Group, Oxford Properties and Morguard.
“You've never seen our app be called Mallcomm, as it is branded to the owner or landlord’s business and personalized to their properties and company brands,” said McKillop. “That way it really becomes integral in the experience and the identity of the property.”
Mallcomm claims its clients experience proven return on investment, including annual operational savings of approximately 10 per cent or more, by using the platform to streamline processes and reallocate resources.
Adeptmind uses artificial intelligence to create a profitable strategy for an online store by influencing and re-influencing online traffic to generate sales.
As a pay-per-click specialist, it has also mastered strategies in paid search, dynamic retargeting and Google shopping.
Adeptmind’s machine-learning algorithms run through millions of data points daily from customers to deliver the most relevant search results. Its intelligent filters can be tailored to every search to help customers find the perfect match.
Adeptmind claims to be the most accurate product discovery provider in the industry and that it will transform a mall into a mini-Amazon by enabling all products from all mall retailers to be searchable and personalized.
“Our unique value proposition is that our platform benefits everyone involved: shoppers, tenants and landlords,” said director of sales and operations Sam Abouchami.
“Our platform provides users with a personalized shopping experience, increasing visibility and awareness for tenants and the products available by leveraging SEO and creating a strong digital presence for the shopping centre.”
Adeptmind can create retention and incremental traffic by incentivizing shoppers, and help retailers offer perks and complimentary services.
“Our platform leverages the best-in-class SEO strategies to capture users from Google and drive traffic to the shopping centre website,” said Abouchami.
“By helping the shopping centre increase its digital presence, we’ve helped our partners increase their unique visitor website traffic, increase engagement and get millions of product impressions month-over-month.”
Abouchami said mall and store marketing teams can use Adeptmind to gain a deeper understanding of their shoppers, including interests, preferred brands, retailers and popular products.
This data can then be used to create detailed profiles of the shoppers in the market they serve, allowing for more targeted and effective marketing.
Abouchami said Adeptmind is projected to cross 200 mall deployments this year and, since 2019, has partnered with companies including Oxford, Mall of America, Ivanhoe Cambridge and Morguard.