More than 2,700 delegates gathered in Liverpool for this year’s Revo retail property conference and exhibition which opened today.
Among the exhibitors, as well as developers and consultants, there were stands for projects including Baron’s Quay and Northgate by Cheshire West & Chester Council, and Liverpool One. Other locations exhibiting include Southampton’s Bargate Quarter, and developments in Hull.
The rise of digital products and services was foremost among many of the exhibitors, as shopping centres and retailers embrace technology to keep shopping relevant to Millennials.
Tom Hamilton, chief executive and founder of virtual reality company Rush VR, said: “We are working with retail centres to provide access to virtual reality. Whereas before you might have a single unit of 3,000 sq ft, we can make that area endless. You can climb Everest or kill zombies within that 3,000 sq ft, in a way that just wasn’t happening before virtual reality was embraced.”
Hamilton added: “At home you might be able to play basic virtual reality, but not to the level that we’re providing, or with the space. Using virtual reality in living rooms is fine, but obviously there are ornaments and furniture that becomes hazards. By offering open space in these units within retail centres, we are enabling virtual reality to be fully experienced in a way that is unachievable at home.”
While Hamilton has yet to sign a contract with a retail centre, he is hopeful that shopping centres will soon incorporate his company. He said: “In the past, developers were adding cinemas into retail centres, but that takes up a lot of a visitor’s time. Virtual reality offers the luxury of being able to play for ten minutes or two hours. You can jump in and out at any time. There is no limit.”
Ipsos Retail Performance is a data analyst offering centres and retailers analytics on footfall and customer behaviour. Tim Joint, the company’s head of marketing, said: “Shopping centres are behind other sectors in terms of analysing customers’ behaviour. It is essential that these centres get on board with such analytics because it can help inform their ability to survive the market.”
Ipsos uses various technologies such as thermal detectors to register how many customers are entering and leaving retail centres and then track specific behaviours. The tech can also be used for monitoring click and collect trade. Joint said: “Our technology enables to us to track the specific number of people coming to shopping centres purely for ‘click and collect’ purposes, by observing which queue they go towards and how long they spend in the retail unit. From this, we can create reports on how successful the ‘click and collect’ service is.”
Smart Rewards is an app that shopping centres can buy where customers collect points every time they fulfill certain requirements. For instance, if a customer walked into a shopping centre twice a week, they might earn a certain amount of points, to be used in discount deals. Account director Matthew O’Halloran said: “The aim is to drive repeat business. Ideas like this have been around in the past but they were always over complicated. Rather than use coupons like in magazines, what we’re doing is providing real time rewards that customers will feel encouraged to use. By being able to see how many more points they need to get a reward they desire, customers are far more likely to return to the centre to achieve that reward.”
The app is currently rolling out across 30 retail centres, and was pioneered by Ellandi, the property investor. O’Hallaran added: “Shopping centres must engage with these sorts of drivers because otherwise they risk dying out. By using Smart Rewards it helps the centres to build up a profile for the area, in terms of which shops see most rewards being used in them, and which behaviours are performed most often to get those points.”
Retail property consultant GCW is also anticipating how shopping centres can survive the climate. Nick Warr, a lead director in the shopping centre team, said: “It’s important that regenerations of town centres and shopping centres are starting to explore not just the entertainment sector, but other ventures too.”
He added: “For example, creating better access to healthcare such as GPs or dental services, as we have seen in Sainsbury’s, is a key driver in increasing footfall. It pulls more people to the centre more regularly.”
He said: “Shopping centres can survive, but they have to make substantial changes in order to do so, and that’s what we’ll be urging today at Revo.”
Among the conference programme are sessions on economic outlook, diversity and investment. Speakers include Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson and Urban Splash chairman Tom Bloxham.
Revo concludes tomorrow.