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Retail: The future is data

In this post-GDPR world when someone says ‘data’, everyone else seems to jump. However, by making data anonymised, rather than render it useless, it can provide insights into the behaviours of shoppers. This could be the key for the retail sector, which is facing great change, helping to inform decisions about tenant choice and location in a tumultuous market.

Location, location, location

“Technology and retail have always put themselves together as enhancing the customer experience but that’s actually a very small part of how tech should be used in retail.” explained Jeremy Hinds, head of retail planning at Savills, speaking at Place North West’s Future of Retail event.

“It’s all about data. Data, data, data,” said Hinds. “Retail used to be about location, location, location. It’s how to assemble data, how to analyse data, how to use data and how to manage that data so you target your customer audience.

“There are more complicated algorithms that are out there now that are enabling that process to be undertaken more rapidly, more efficient and a lot easier by a lot more companies.”

Shopper behaviour intelligence

Imagine Google Analytics for the physical world. That’s what UK startup, PlaceDashboard, is trying to achieve. It’s a shopper behaviour analytics platform that was created to help retailers, asset owners and place makers to analyse how shoppers behave in the offline world by providing performance measurements of retail locations, marketing campaigns and competitor bench marking.

Place Dashboard

PlaceDashboards uses mobile phone GPS data to help clients track brand performance, keep an eye on competitor sites and locate retailers in the most suitable units

The insight provider does this by capturing around 3bn anonymised location events, from GPS signals, each month from over 1m phones across the UK. These behaviour patterns and data are then applied to a proprietary location canvas to gain an understanding of where people visit, shop and spend their leisure time as well as where they travel and where their journeys start from.

The retail industry appears to be taking note with PlaceDashboard taking investment from TH Real Estate and Derwent Estates and clients including Savills, Grant Thornton and New Look. Councils in Middlesbrough, Stockport and Watford have also sought insight from the startup as well as over 15 business improvement districts including the successful town of Altrincham.

An invaluable tool

However, not all in the retail industry are jumping on board the data ship yet explained head of retail strategy at Colliers International, Matt Thompson: “It’s difficult. Some landowners can see the value, whereas others are still tied down to their big headline figures of footfall and they’re stuck with figures by a dated model from 10 years ago. It’s about educating where this data comes from and the value behind it.”

Thompson added: “It’s less scary as soon as you begin to understand that it is anonymised. The only data provided is the age band of the user and the sex. Anything else is generated from the movement and behaviour of the device itself.”

Savills’ Hinds agrees: “We have a challenge in the West about how much companies know about us in regard to data.”

By utilising data and turning it into analytics, companies can gain an understanding of how their retail fits within local shopper ecosystems, know where their audience is going when they aren’t shopping with them including identifying how far they’re willing to travel to shop with competitors and much more.

Data can be an invaluable tool when it comes to making decisions with facts instead of assumptions on things such as tenant mix, site investment, and leasing negotiations. Furthermore, by using data, companies could track consumer trends and identify fluctuations the industry often recognises only when it’s too late. Despite initial tentative steps, it would appear the industry is taking steps towards embracing data and analytics to help shape the future retail landscape.

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