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06/29/2022

5Qs for John Dee on omnichannel integration

In the new retail world, landlords have to become digital marketers
Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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John Dee
John Dee

You may never have heard of John Dee, but he and his company are playing a key role in the “omni-channelization” of retail. Strong DTC brands are treading into the physical world to engage physically—and deliver product to—customers. Physical retail centers must cross an even more treacherous pass to help their tenants establish digital contact with their customers, sell them merchandise online, and deliver it to them locally. Dee’s company, Placewise, has worked with mall owner-operators like Centennialand Poag to create omnichannel engines intended to carry them into retail’s new age. Progress is being made, but as Dee tells Chain Store Age, the journey has just begun.

COVID-19 made omnichannel integration imperative for retailers and shopping center owners. How are they doing?
Some good, some not so good. Best Buy has been refining its e-com approach over the last decade, so they were well-attuned to omnichannel operations when COVID hit. They discovered what sold best online and what sold best in stores, so you saw their in-store merchandising changing before the pandemic. Bed Bath & Beyond struggled with digital during COVID and closed many locations.

And center owners?
What we’re telling them is that they can’t just be operational--emptying the trash and shoveling the snow. It’s become very important for them to acquire data and begin to understand their audiences better. It’s something they should have always been doing, but didn’t. It’s an opportunity for landlords to become omnichannel enablers for their tenants, because most consumers see online shopping and shopping in a store as one. You’ll go to a store to buy a blue shirt and they don’t have it in your size so you pull out your phone and buy it on the store’s website and have it shipped to you.

“It’s become very important for shopping center owners to acquire data and begin to understand their audiences better. It’s something they should have always been doing, but didn’t.”
- John Dee, President of Placewise

So landlords need to evolve into marketers?
That’s what we help them to do by arming their teams with information and data. What we want to do is populate all the digital touchpoints—website, email, SMS programs, loyalty programs and rewards. This helps center owners connect with their communities online and give them news about tenants. Done properly, they can send a text message to the 24-year-old male and let him know about the next big sneaker drop at Finish Line.

Not all retailers are willing to meld their marketing with the mall, right? So what do you see as the attitude retail brands should adopt in the physical space?
Making this successful has a lot to do with retailers.  They should be looking to optimize the channel acquisition cost, and if the shopping center is willing to drive people through that acquisition path, it comes as no cost to them. It’s a service you get with your lease.

With mall owners like Centennial that want to make it possible for consumers to buy anything in a mall online, isn’t capturing all that inventory difficult?
Inventory accuracy is always tricky. Some retailers have an excellent handle on it, some no idea. When you mentioned it to retailers prior to the pandemic, you could feel the tension in the background. Now that’s going away. There was a time when no retailers had affiliate programs on their e-commerce sites and now they all do. It’s not the relationship retailers used to have with their landlords. This is a big change, but it’s just a matter of time.