Transforming the shopping mall experience with smart technology

Louise Hobroh

Since their mid-20th century rise, shopping malls have been shifting and changing to suit consumer habits and needs. Once designed to include a few shops anchored by major department stores, these structures have evolved as destinations for work, lifestyle and play. It’s now not uncommon for shopping malls to be a mix of retail, restaurants, entertainment, residences and office space.

The changing consumer shopping behavior and movement toward ecommerce have certainly added to the need for reinvention in order to meet customer needs. In addition, concerns around health and safety continue to act as a catalyst for change. New demands require malls to place more effort on creating a safe and pleasant environment, customizing services and taking actions on customer insights – efforts that lead to enhanced customer experience.

As malls continue to repurpose their spaces, many are looking to technology to make their properties more attractive and to better connect with digital consumers. The smart use of technology can help support mall management’s objectives to better align with what customers want and ensure safe and comfortable experiences during their visits.

Create the right ambiance to cater to the ‘new’ customer

The consumer’s time is valuable and when they visit the mall they expect to enjoy a personalized experience and be able to shop conveniently with as little friction as possible. They also need to feel safe during their entire visit, allowing them to relax and enjoy the experience. Catering to this ‘new’ breed of customer requires an integrated and multi-layered approach, with technology at the center.

Safety and security are key elements that help mall owners achieve the right ambiance on their properties and are the bedrocks of the customer experience. After all, customers won’t be able to enjoy their visits if they are concerned or feel unsettled. As a result, both are high priorities for customers and can be tackled in different, but related ways. With regards to safety, mall owners want to reassure customers of the measures in place to address hygiene and social distancing concerns.

Counting people to control occupancy is a must when following health and safety guidelines. The same technology can also be used outside high-touch areas such as restrooms to count traffic, and automatically alert cleaning staff after a certain number of visits.

From a security perspective, effective monitoring is essential. Malls tend to be hot spots for theft, vandalism or interpersonal conflict and it is critical for security personnel to be aware of incidents around all corners. Early intervention is even more valuable, as staff can prevent incidents from escalating. Surveillance solutions with features such as sound intelligence can support staff in detecting undesirable activity. For example, audio analytics can be used to pick up sounds of aggression from individuals or breaking glass.

In practice, this works well. Le Piazze Center in Bologna needed to upgrade the existing surveillance system to improve efficiencies and better support security staff. By adding network audio to the solution, a passive system was transformed into a proactive instrument which could broadcast either live or pre-recorded messages. In this way, undesirable events and emergency situations were better prevented and managed. It also led to significant cost-savings, both through a reduced number of false alarms and the elimination of physical on-site patrols.

Customization of services yields better results

Creating a consistent and personalized experience starts with understanding the customer – what their shopping habits are, where they like to spend the most time and how long they stay during their visit. In this way, mall managers can ensure that the relevant services are available to them, increasing convenience. For example, for those shoppers who remain concerned about social distancing, touchless collection services such as ‘buy online pick up in mall (BOPIM)’ models would appeal.

By using analytics in network cameras, retailers and mall managers can detect different demographics of shoppers and tailor their offering to specific audiences. Messaging can be displayed on digital signage or communicated via loud speakers when the customer enters a specific area of the store. This increases the opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell products and gets the right message to the shopper at the right time.

Customer data and insights provide business-critical information for management

In addition to supporting social distancing measures and crowd control, the implementation of people-counting solutions is also of great use for making informed decisions in marketing and operations. It allows precise information on shoppers entering and leaving the mall at certain hours. People flow and the areas where shoppers linger can also provide usable knowledge and performance metrics for malls management and tenants. Malls can use zoned people counting information to understand what attracts the customer and set the tenant mix thereafter. In this way the mall’s efficiency can be improved and business grow.

Demographic analysis can also be used to measure the success of a particular campaign and inform planning for the next one. In this way, marketers can remain flexible and tweak their language and messaging to ensure that it is relevant.

Understanding and measuring footfall is critical for effective marketing, and the managers at the Galați Shopping City in Romania knew that they had to arm their retailers with accurate information. They used a people-counting solution to gain a better view of the rhythm of shoppers in the mall, which helped with future planning of known busy periods.

Creating the mall of the future

Malls will continue to act as central hubs of entertainment for visitors, and technology will play a role in the optimization of processes and data-gathering. Network surveillance solutions will remain at the heart of this evolution, and new use cases will emerge. This is already being seen as mall management turn their attention to all aspects of the customer journey.

For example, parking lots can be an area which cause frustrations. Technology can be used to help customers find spaces quickly. When the customer arrives video surveillance cameras can together with video analytics monitor an area with parking lots and provide information about available spaces to drivers through mobile-app or digital signage.

Inside the main mall, another trend that is becoming more popular is livestreaming events or ecommerce on social media channels, bringing the experience to prospective visitors from all over the globe. Broadcast cameras positioned around specific areas can support in these efforts.

Using surveillance technology to enhance customer experience

As new opportunities come up in shopping malls, agility and flexibility will be key. Technology can be used intelligently to improve different aspects of the customer experience, thereby encouraging return visits and advocacy. This is especially true when considering making positive changes to safety, security, creating a tailored experience and using insights from analytics to inform future planning. The trends in retail all point to smart, connected technology being used to create a more compelling customer experience which, in turn, can only increase revenue.

Read more about Axis’ solutions for retail here.

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