European retail developer Hammerson is getting techy. There’s its partnership with specialist proptech fund, Concrete VC, agreed earlier this year, to provide the company with exclusive access to ideas and talent for deployment across its portfolio of retail centres, parks and outlets.
And there are new roles, including Kathryn Malloch’s as head of customer experience, which evolved from her previous role as group product innovation manager. Prior to joining Hammerson in 2015, Kathryn had various roles within retailer Homebase.
So has Hammerson worked out where it’s going to focus its time and money?
In 2017, Hammerson partnered with AI company Cortexica to develop an innovative visual search tool, Style Seeker, which is integrated into apps for each of its centres.
Hammerson has continued the partnership with Cortexica, developing a joint project funded partly by the government’s Innovate UK looking at how AI can improve security and safety in public spaces. The software is anonymous and doesn’t use facial recognition, instead it identifies certain triggers from actions and behaviours such as someone running, or a bag being left unattended.
The AI innovation continues with a roll-out of a customer service chatbot following a successful trial at Bullring in Birmingham. The bot is designed to learn and deliver updated answers to shoppers on a real-time basis – within 2 months, the AI bot answered over 23,000 questions.
This not only improved customer service but also provided a large volume of insight on services and facilities, which Hammerson has then been able to feedback into its leasing team.
In addition to this Hammerson has been looking at how to expand the content & uses of the chatbot into voice recognition technology, carrying out a test and learn programme at Bullring. Early tests demonstrated a strong customer appetite, however Hammerson believes the technology needs to evolve further before it will be fully useful in a physical retail space.
Kathryn highlighted that the company is looking to make delivering payments as frictionless as possible.
“It’s something we’re very interested in. It’s a space where you’ll see a huge amount of disruption and innovation and we’ve already seen lots from the likes Apple Pay and then there’s Amazon Go with a frictionless checkout-less experience.”
IoT and smart cities
Hammerson is currently undertaking trials which are looking at temperature-controlled environments through the use of sensors. The company is also looking at the future of its buildings and how they can be made more efficient through the use of integrated IoT technology.
There are a number of different purposes of sensors as well as measuring temperature including humidity, vibrations, motion, light, and pressure.
Robotics and automation
“We are very interested in the transportation side of automation,” added Kathryn.
“The future of driverless cars and what that means for the retail sector is really important. It’s an area that retailers are going to exploit more and more, particularly in the area of back of house servicing, we can see that becoming a much more efficient process.”
Virtual and augmented reality
Hammerson has completed a couple of trials in this space: “It’s definitely one we’re watching, companies like Topshop are doing really interesting things in this space from an engagement point of view – they did a VR waterslide experience to launch a new swimwear range.”
“We are working on some trials in this space as idea of big data is really important, and we’ve invested heavily into our customer relationship management. We recognise that we can add value by better understanding our shoppers and tailoring the experience we give them. There is a heap of innovation in that space around personalisation.”