The popularity of property technology (prop tech) has expanded rapidly as retail owners and operators look for chances to streamline and improve their properties via data collection. However, says Sandy Sigal, president and CEO of NewMark Merrill, the hardest part of making prop tech useful isn’t collecting data.
“The hard part about implementing prop tech successfully is making sure that the data is understandable, actionable and can be used by a wide array of people. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with data, and it can be very hard to draw conclusions. We are always monitoring whether the data sources we use can be made easier to digest.”
To this end, NewMark Merrill focuses on providing insight via customer sentiment and identity. The aim is to build a retail community that serves the customer better — using data to drive improvements based on what customers indicate they want.
“Sentiment (how the customer feels about us), when they visit our center or when they visit our merchants, drives their loyalty. Their loyalty drives traffic. The traffic drives sales and sales drive rents,” says Sigal.
He explains that NewMark Merrill’s tech initiatives are all centered around collecting information from customers as well as their reactions to what they experience when they deal with NewMark Merrill or its merchants.
Gauging reaction often involves taking customers precisely at their word: reviewing what posts on websites like Facebook, Google or Yelp say about the customer’s experience, especially if that feedback indicates 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 shopping area.
Combined with surveys, questionnaires and other forms of customer feedback, this approach to cataloguing and condensing provides invaluable information on customer perceptions of security, cleanliness, responsiveness and much more.
Just as important as gauging what customers say about their experience is determining who the customer is. Using three distinct data sources (geofencing and phone data, Wi-Fi data and cameras), NewMark Merrill relies on anonymized consumer data to provide a more complete (but noninvasive) way to know 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 in order to better serve their needs.
Combining knowledge on customer identity with details on their habits can help create a better picture of merchant performance. NewMark Merrill connects this information with data on how merchants are ranked, how they compare to those in similar centers, as well as traffic level and sales trends over time. Merchant needs can be met by providing them with more exposure in social media or signage, traffic flow solutions or security presence.
These prop tech approaches also help NewMark Merrill consider rent from an informed angle — tracking what’s affordable and where might adjustments be needed.
Using Tech to Allocate Resources — Including Staff
Sigal explains that technology allows owners to free up or concentrate staff as needed. Managing security, keeping an eye on hot spots that require frequent cleaning and allocating maintenance resources can all be better achieved via shared data. So too can better approaches to marketing and leasing.
“We have one platform that takes all the information from these other platforms and puts the information in a single place so that we can have transparency with our property management, operation, marketing, leasing and acquisition teams,” says Sigal.
“It does no good if just one person is the only person getting this information. It must be democratized to be effective,” explains Sigal. The reports (filled with visualizations to track trends) let teams comprehend quickly what is needed and adapt effectively.
Making Retail Work for Today’s Customers and Merchants
In addition to signage, social media presence and informative email initiatives, NewMark Merrill likes to communicate with customers through community-focused events (from concerts to pet costumes contests and beyond).
“We want people to feel a certain way when they visit one of our centers. We’re out there to capture their heart, and not in transactional way. We want them to feel connected and engaged through our centers. Our goal is to make sure our centers fit customer needs and what they really want.”
This technology is meant to bring people to places where they’ll genuinely enjoy being. Sigal notes the importance of not using this technology in a way that feels invasive or manipulative. The best way to implement it is to improve customers’ opinions of retail centers over and over again: “We use technology to confirm or identify how we could do a better job. Or if you’re doing a great job, how to do more of it.”
— By Sarah Daniels. This post is posted 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.