Look Who's Pushing Retailers to Go Omnichannel
Shopping center owners are fighting back against e-commerce, and one of the ways they're doing it is by encouraging their brick-and-mortar stores to embrace omnichannel operations. That's right -- instead of turning their backs on the Internet, retailers are being encouraged to use mobile technologies to their advantage, through real-time promotions and services.
Only the truly dedicated shopper realizes this -- and of course, anyone who follows the retail industry (I happen to fall in both categories) -- but most shopping centers in the United States are owned by just a handful of companies, called "real estate investment trusts," or REITs, if they are publicly held.
On the surface, this is irrelevant to average shoppers. However, these companies have a vested interest in studying and deploying new services and technologies to attract them and keep them coming back.
Examples of these services range across the board from apps that help them find a parking spot during the holiday shopping season to digital coupon offerings for retailers located at the local mall.
Lately, though, some of these companies have been taking a more focused and comprehensive approach as they roll out these upgrades: investments that support the omnichannel.
Two examples just this week:
- Taubman Centers is rolling out business class WiFi for retailers in its regional and super regional malls; and
- Phillips Edison & Co. announced it has entered into an agreement with Sonic Notify to use its beacon technology-powered mobile marketing in two of its grocery-anchored shopping centers.
How to Win the E-Commerce Wars
These are two different examples provided by two separate companies utilizing different technologies, but the same theme runs throughout: Omnichannel dominance is how brick-and-mortar retailers will survive -- and maybe even thrive -- in the war against e-commerce.
Make no mistake -- it is a war, despite what industry reps may say. Current rhetoric from retail real estate-owning companies is to describe the Internet as a complementary tool that can enhance service and product delivery for customers.
Certainly this whistling-past-the-graveyard attitude is on full display at RECon, the International Council of Shopping Centers' annual mammoth trade show, ongoing this week in Las Vegas.
However, an interesting statistic also emerged during the countless presentations and discussions held during the event: Although e-tail sales still account for only about 6 percent of total retail sales, their share of retail revenue is rapidly increasing, by about 12 percent every year.
In short, it is game on, and the beneficiaries will be retailers that otherwise might not make the necessary investments to reach out to consumers using a mobile channel.
Consider the offerings of Taubman and Phillips Edison, respectively.
Taubman, through vendor Single Digits, this summer will begin offering a business-class T1 equivalent service free of charge to tenants leasing space in Taubman malls.
Why? "We know that the best retailers are pursuing omnichannel customer engagement strategies," said Taubman Chief Technology Officer Michael Osment, "and that requires fast, secure Internet access to execute both customer-facing programs and back-of-the-store operations."
WiFi is hardly a new offering in a mall, but business service-grade access is. Taubman is the first in the industry to offer it, the company said.
More than likely it will not be the last.
Mobile Marketing in the Grocery Store
Phillips Edison's deal with Sonic Notify also offers interesting possibilities to brands and consumers.
The company is deploying beacon technology-powered mobile marketing at two locations: Statler Square in Staunton, Va., which is anchored by Kroger; and La Plata Plaza in La Plata, Mary., which is anchored by Target and Safeway.
In this case, Phillips appears to be taking a more proactive role in encouraging retailers to use the technology.
It will work with its retailers "to provide promotions and community relevant information to shoppers," it said. The technology will allow retailers and advertisers to "exchange personalized greetings, product suggestions, in-store discounts and coupons to consumers in specified locations."
And oh yes, there is also this: The technology also will provide "valuable data" to enhance the shopper experience, said Bob Myers, chief operating officer for Phillips Edison.
Now that opens an interesting new door for discussion: How will those REITs manage privacy as they push the envelope with their tech deployments? Just to show you how forward-looking these companies are, consumer privacy is also on the radar of many of these shopping center REITs, as earnings calls have revealed -- just not as much as their own tenants' omnichannel capabilities.