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Shopping centre transformation in the digital era – how to choose the right WiFi.

The leading shopping centre owners are constantly seeking to enhance the customer experience – to combine a compelling reason to visit with an engaging and fulfilling experience.

Digital planning has become central to this customer engagement strategy, with a need for technology planning that encompasses software solutions for the web and mobile as well as the necessary hardware infrastructure (e.g. WiFi, beacons, digital media).

This recognition that the shopping centre must act as a digital as well as a physical brand, if it is to stay in-tune with the fast-evolving consumer, is often a hard lesson to learn for landlords and managing agents who come, by and large, steeped in a history of bricks and mortar retailing.

Providing a stable, easy-to-use WiFi environment with capacity to support peak shopping periods is often seen as the necessary first step – the vital base camp from which a more ambitious digital programme can be launched.

Current best practice – provided by operators such as Westfield – allows centre shoppers to be connected across the whole site under the centre name, with individual transmitters in local stores configured to recognise location and provide different services if the tenant wanted it in their own name. This holistic approach ensures the shopping centre owner has a role in the engagement and can achieve economies of scale in both setup and support. Secondary WiFi can be staff-restricted for other purposes such as security staff monitoring of the centre and general facilities management.

From an in-store technology strategy perspective, enabling customer WiFi is a key first step in enhancing the level of digital engagement. This technology deployment is the foundation on which loyalty, behavioural and gamification capabilities can be developed and more importantly harnesses the customer’s own device, thereby minimising the need for in-centre/store hardware investment such as kiosks.

When it comes to selecting hardware and applications to support the experience customers expect, we typically recommend at least an RFI or ideally the RFP approach is followed by the centre owner. For this type of process, the following key stages are important to fully understand the capability requirements and to provide a strong and robust recommendation on how to progress:

  1. Articulate your business strategy for the shopping centre and understand current capabilities and requirements
  2. Look to the market to shortlist vendors to engage through an RFI/RFP process
  3. Create the RFI/RFP documentation set and formulate the evaluation criteria
  4. Engage with vendors and appoint a programme manager to manage all communications, responses and demos
  5. Conduct a critical analysis of the responses allowing for a recommendation on most suited vendor to be given
  6. Detail the ideal next steps into commercial negotiation or Proof of Concept (PoC) where appropriate

Shopping centre owners who follow this process, and embed an understanding and appreciation of the evolving technology landscape, are likely to be the future winners in the ongoing battle for hearts and minds of local shoppers.

In future blogs, we will explore some of the other technology challenges facing shopping centre owners as they navigate the era of digital transformation in retail.

FIND OUT MORE about Javelin Group’s Technology Consulting practice.