The popularity of real estate technology (prop tech) has grown rapidly as retail owners and operators seek opportunities to streamline and improve their properties through data collection. However, says Sandy Sigal, president and CEO of NewMark Merrill, the hardest part of making accessory technology useful isn’t collecting data.
“The hard part of successfully implementing accessory technology is ensuring that the data is understandable, actionable and can be used by a wide range of people. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with data and it’s can be very difficult to draw conclusions. We always check if the data sources we use can be made easier to digest.”
To this end, NewMark Merrill focuses on providing insights through customer sentiment and identity. The goal is to build a retail community that better serves the customer – using data to drive improvements based on what customers indicate what they want.
“Sentiment (what the customer feels for us), when he visits our center or when he visits our merchants, is the engine of his loyalty. Their loyalty generates traffic. Traffic drives sales, and sales drive rent,” says Sigal.
He explains that NewMark Merrill’s technology initiatives are all centered around gathering information from customers as well as their reactions to what they experience when dealing with NewMark Merrill or its merchants.
Gauging reaction often involves taking customers at their word with precision: looking at what posts on websites like Facebook, Google, or Yelp are saying about the customer’s experience, especially if those comments indicate a strong trend. This data is collected from over 20 separate sites, compiled and analyzed to provide an honest, real-time record of a customer’s association with a trading area.
Combined with surveys, questionnaires and other forms of customer feedback, this cataloging and condensing approach provides invaluable insight into customer perceptions of safety, cleanliness, responsiveness and more.
Just as important as evaluating what customers say about their experience, it’s equally important to determine who the customer is. Using three separate data sources (geofencing and phone data, Wi-Fi data, and cameras), NewMark Merrill leverages anonymized consumer data to provide a more comprehensive (but non-invasive) way to learn about customers and their habits.
NewMark Merrill considers where customers come from, where they go when they leave, their shopping habits across a variety of channels, and even anonymized camera data on facial expressions to better meet their needs.
Combining knowledge about customer identities with details about their habits can help create a better picture of merchant performance. NewMark Merrill combines this information with data on merchant rankings, how they compare to similar centers, and level of traffic and sales trends over time. The needs of merchants can be met by providing them with greater visibility in social media or signage, traffic flow solutions or security presence.
These accessory technology approaches also help NewMark Merrill take an informed view of rent – tracking what is affordable and where adjustments might be needed.
Use technology to allocate resources – including staff
Sigal explains that technology allows owners to free up or concentrate staff as needed. Managing security, monitoring hotspots that require frequent cleaning, and allocating maintenance resources can be better accomplished through shared data. The same goes for better marketing and leasing approaches.
“We have a platform that takes all the information from those other platforms and puts it in one place so we can have transparency with our property management, operations, marketing, leasing and of acquisition”, explains Sigal.
“There is no point if one person is the only one getting this information. It must be democratized to be effective”, explains Sigal. Reports (filled with visualizations to track trends) allow teams to quickly understand what is needed and adapt effectively.
Making retail work for today’s customers and merchants
In addition to signage, social media presence and email outreach initiatives, NewMark Merrill enjoys communicating with customers through community-focused events (from concerts to pet costume contests company and beyond).
“We want people to feel a certain way when they visit one of our centres. We’re here to win their hearts, not transactionally. We want them to feel connected and engaged through our centers. Our goal is to ensure that our centers meet the needs of customers and what they really want.
This technology is meant to bring people to places where they will truly enjoy being. Sigal notes the importance of not using this technology in a way that feels invasive or manipulative. The best way to implement this is to further and further improve customer opinion of shopping centres: “We use technology to confirm or identify how we could do a better job. Or if you’re doing a great job, how do you do more. »
— By Sarah Daniels. This article is published as part of Shopping Center Business’ Retail Insight series. Click here to subscribe to the Retail Insight newsletter, a four-part newsletter series, followed by video interviews delivered to your inbox in May/June.