Michael Bleby Reporter

Michael writes on emerging markets, architecture and engineering. He has served as a correspondent in Tokyo, London and Johannesburg and has written for Reuters, the Financial Times, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Shopping centre owners turn to apps

Published 28 November 2012 05:30, Updated 06 December 2012 00:51

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Shopping centre owners turn to apps

GPT hopes that building up profiles of what customers want and how and when they buy it will enable retail tenants to target individuals with specials based on that information. Photo: Tamara Voninski

GPT Group is jumping from managing retail property to directly dealing with consumers with the launch of an application that will help shoppers find what they want to buy within its malls while providing the company with useful data.

The Sydney-based mall owner is a relative latecomer to the app game – Coles launched an iPhone app in 2009, for example, and mall rivals Westfield and AMP Capital Shopping Centres already have them. But GPT, which owns Melbourne Central and 11 other shopping centres nationally, says its service does more than those of rivals, including directing customers to stores selling what they want.

The app is part of an evolving trend by which traditional retailers are trying to protect and define their turf in the face of increasing online retail sales by customising offerings to consumers.

“One of the emerging trends over the past few years in particular has been the introduction and rapid development of technology across the community,” says GPT head of asset management Matt Faddy. “We looked at this technology and said ‘How can we use it to further improve the performance of our shopping centres?’.”

The app will guide shoppers around the mall based on the products or services they have said they want to buy, and lets them connect with friends also using the app in the same location. It will allow retailers to push tailored deals to individuals when they are in the mall, help shoppers find their car at the end of the visit and – crucially – give the real estate company demographic and sales information about the human traffic through its malls.

One frustration for mall owners is the limits on technology that delay innovations. GPT’s “take me there” function will not work like a car GPS – that will only be available in subsequent versions next year. In the initial version, app users have to respond to drop-down menus to identify their location. The app will then direct them to their destination store.

In the same way, a function that will eventually guide shoppers by GPS technology back to their car – 30 per cent of shoppers forget where they have parked – will not be available immediately.

“At this stage, there have been challenges with navigation in a mall, around malls that go over multi-levels,” Faddy says. “That nut’s only just now starting to be cracked.”

Mall owner Mirvac last week said it had published a website that used “responsive technology” to fit its shape and format to whatever screen or device accessed the site for malls such as Sydney’s Broadway Shopping Centre. Next year the company plans to launch an app for all its 18 malls that will encourage people to break out of their established shopping patterns, says Mirvac digital marketing manager Setareh “Setty” Ferdousian.

“Research has shown that customers just want to do their grocery shopping and go,” Ferdousian says. “Fashion is struggling in centres. How do we change customers’ behaviour to get them to circulate to different areas?”

GPT’s Faddy says that by building up profiles of what customers want and how and when they buy it, and by enabling retail tenants to target individuals with specials based on that information, GPT will be able to tailor information to individuals as well as selling targeted advertising.

“We believe one opportunity may come out of using technology to communicate with the people we are already communicating with,” he says. “It does open up avenues for new revenue.”

While the extra data GPT will gain from this app will give the property manager more information about how well individual stores perform, Faddy says it is not something that strengthens his company’s hand when it comes to negotiating leases with tenants.

But he agrees it will give them more information.

“We would have better informed discussions with our retail customers than we may have before,” he says. “We know what demographics are visiting at what time [and] will have feedback concerning the good or bad performance of a store.”

Still, he says, it will also allow retailers to pick up on failures by the mall owner to respond to complaints or customer feedback.

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