Where next for shopping centres and mobile marketing?

In the last two years, the opportunities available to shopping centre owners and their retail tenants to engage directly with their shoppers through the use of advanced mobile technologies have increased rapidly.

The combination of precise, real-time geolocation (e.g. through a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacons), smart targeting and big data analytics facilitating adaptive, context-aware messaging has changed the landscape for localised, effective marketing. But shopping centre owners still need to make further progress in making the most of this exciting opportunity.

Whilst the technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, the quality of delivery (in terms of the marketing content it is used to promote) still often leaves a lot to be desired.

Too often, the marketing messages and promotions pushed through the smartphone (via shopping centre apps) are generic offers that simply mirror what is available elsewhere; they are not effectively targeted at consumer groups that will find them compelling, and the choice between push messaging and simply allowing shoppers to find their own way to content that will be relevant to them is ignored. The result is often a disappointing level of customer engagement leading to a lack of retailer commitment to making the mobile platform fly.

However, the positive results of effective targeting through mobile devices can be staggering.

Case Study: At Elbe Park shopping centre in Dresden, Germany, the 'Sparalarm' app is live. The platform, developed by Match2Blue, is managed by the local newspaper as a means to generate a new stream of promotional revenue, provides a portal for the scheme's retailers to place real-time promotions targeted at the city centre's shoppers.

In the launch week of the app, a compelling time-based discount was offered to selected user profiles for a few targeted products in the centre. The target shoppers received via push notification a relevant discounted offer of 50% off, reducing by 1% for every passing minute.

Whilst end-to-end conversion (i.e. from push notification to redemption) can typically be around 10% in systems actively using context-aware geo-located targeting, this specific promotion achieved a staggering 70% conversion, with shoppers typically achieving around 40% discount. These rates of conversion are far beyond anything promotions delivered through more traditional mechanisms (email, text, social media…) could hope to achieve, but currently they are seldom reached by mobile platforms where the quality of targeting and the marketing message is too often sub-standard.

So, why are these success stories currently the exception rather than the norm?

To be successful, shopping centre owners need to work hard not only to engage and sign up shoppers – in many ways, this is the easy part – but also to engage their tenants and work together over the long term to help them make the most of the platform.

For many retailers, whilst in principle the potential benefits of targeted, localised marketing are well understood, in practice there are several real constraints slowing its adoption. These include:

Central control of marketing and promotional budget

Lack of necessary marketing know-how (and available resource) at store-level

Retailers' focus on their own mobile platforms

Poor relationship with landlords

Concern over data privacy

Shopping centre owners need to be sensitive to these constraints and work hard to address them.

So, here is Javelin Group's 12-point checklist of how to achieve best practice in the use of mobile marketing apps in shopping centre environments:

If you find yourself answering yes to fewer than seven of these questions, then it suggests there is still much work to be done in making the most of your app; answer yes to seven or more questions and you are probably at or close to current industry best practice.

But of course, this area of mobile data and marketing is moving very fast, and best practice of today will tomorrow be a hygiene factor.

The next generation of actionable insight in this arena is already on the horizon, as businesses such as SAP, Telefonica and EE bring to market a rich steam of data from the anonymised tracking of mobile phone users.

This will add a new layer of understanding relating to the movements and profile of visitors to a shopping centre. Whilst this will revolutionise the way in which shopping centres understand such key dynamics as catchment areas, shopper profiles, competitive leakage and flow patterns, it will bring a new set of challenges as owners seek to understand the commercial actions that this deeper knowledge can help to trigger.

Robin Bevan is director of locations & analytics at Javelin Group, a specialist omnichannel retail consultancy and systems integration firm.

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