How Shopper Analytics Ensure the Mall Thrives

BY Nader Fathi

While empty, decaying malls make for inspired photo shoots, most of America’s shopping malls are actually doing well. In fact, according to new data from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries, shopping center occupancy rates were 92.7% at the end of 2014 – the highest level in six years! Occupancy was even higher for malls (both super-regional and regional malls) at 94.2%, the highest since 1987.

Since the e-commerce and ensuing mobile commerce boom, retailers and malls have been working hard to drive people into their stores and keep them there. Many have implemented innovative technology, including device detection and customer analytics software, to keep up with current shopping behavior trends to not only improve operations but also drive in-store sales.

Mall operators have unique demands as they provide services to both retailers and consumers. To breathe new life into its space, one major Silicon Valley shopping mall, spanning both open air and enclosed buildings across several city blocks, captures customer behavior information via WiFi access points (both within retail merchant stores and across the mall grounds).

Once reliant on assumptions or sales data without context, this shopping mall now uses WiFi-enabled customer analytics to:

1. Improve operations based on visitor traffic (for better retail mix, employee coverage),

2. Help its merchants by providing better traffic flow data and visitor information, and

3. Keep close contact with loyal customers by providing Social Wi-Fi.

This passive and anonymous data collected from shoppers and employees generates analytics for the operations team to visualize the flow and dwell patterns of customer visits. This in-depth understanding of traffic flow led to the realignment of resources for:

• Security and facilities management,
• Staffing schedules (based on when and where visitors to the mall appeared), and
• Maintenance activities (to reduce inconvenience to visitors and merchants alike).

Additionally, one collateral benefit imparted to the operations team is better management of the “mix” and location of new retailers; with more knowledge of visitor traffic, the shopping mall can justify higher rental rates and better visitor offerings. This mall also offers a variety of events every week, such as live music, Karaoke Night, Game Night, and other activities. Using customer analytics, it can measure which event drew more visitors to their site.

During the past five years, the top providers of analytics tools for brick-and-mortar retail have collectively amassed nearly $300 million in funding. There is a huge appetite for technologies that offer insight about their shoppers and what actually happens in each store. Basic-yet-essential insights, such as foot traffic counts and new versus repeat customers, can arm a previously blind retailer with key data for more efficient staffing, store layouts and more.

Consequently, this Silicon Valley shopping mall offers its merchants a retailer dashboard to give them the same benefits of having visibility into consumer traffic in their own stores. Other features provided were loyalty metrics, consumer behavior analysis and overlay on traffic patterns across the mall to view the success of their own marketing campaigns within the mall environment.

Taking it to the next level, the active marketing power of customer analytics comes from the “connected” consumer via captive portals. That is, opt-in setups through which shoppers login to the mall’s secure WiFi, most often via Facebook, in return for free Internet access (sparing their data usage) as well as a numerous perks, many of which today’s consumers expect.

This shopping mall is able to identify the visitor and gain deeper insights about each person’s interests, purchase history and showrooming behavior (Internet browsing while on premise). In addition to offering insights to improve operations, connected visitor analytics enable triggered marketing outcomes that increase conversion and boost loyalty.

The win-win benefits consumers with perks including:

• Better visitor experience
• Targeted offers served up in real time
• Unadvertised promotions that surprise and reward the visitor
• Frictionless loyalty card (the system credits the shopper for the visit automatically)

By meeting the combined goals of supporting mall operations and retailer marketing needs with customer analytics, the shopping center’s management can better utilize their operations staff and resources, and provide its merchants with tools to understand how visitor traffic affects sales.

Nader Fathi is CEO at Kiana Analytics.


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