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Hammerson's new AI-enhanced CCTV in focus

Shopping centre owner Hammerson is utilising its CCTV cameras for more than just security, as it looks to better manage its space and support business growth for its tenants and itself.

Working with Deepnorth – a company that says it provides artificial intelligence (AI) for a physical world – the property group is tracking anonymised footfall and counting people going in and out of particular zones. The aim is to gain deeper insights into flow and traffic numbers around its centres, using AI-enabled technology that grows in sophistication the more it is used.

The group said in July that it had started a trial at Westquay shopping centre to monitor customer behaviour, but Kathyrn Malloch, head of customer experience at Hammerson, has provided Essential Retail with more details. Against the backdrop of some high-profile controversial deployments of facial recognition systems in the UK, she points out Hammerson’s decision not to use such technology despite its availability.

“The technology uses computer vision software but importantly does not track or identify individuals or use any form of facial recognition and so allows us to gather valuable insight in a non-intrusive and anonymous way,” she explains.

“It is early days in the trial – we’re just getting a first view of the data and are working with Deepnorth to train and increase accuracy of the computer vision tool.”

Measuring visitor flow, ‘hot spots’ and ‘cold spots’ within a centre provides key metrics for landlord and tenants alike, and Hammerson views the new solution as a way of providing more support to Westquay occupants. 

It is also a case of utilising existing assets. By incorporating Deepnorth’s technology into the CCTV network, it meant Hammerson avoided additional expenditure associated with procuring and installing new hardware.

Hammerson CEO, David Atkins, recently spoke of “undoubtedly challenging” conditions in UK retail, as the group reported net rental income from its flagship locations was down by 6.8% in the first half of its financial year. There are calls across the industry for greater collaboration between landlords and tenants, and fresh concepts, to support the future of the shopping centre sector.

“A number of brands now use retail stores as showrooms to deliver an experience and build awareness about their brand, so footfall is often as, if not more, significant than sales as a metric to judge performance,” notes Malloch, who says the technology shows Hammerson how many shoppers walk past or go into individual tenant premises.

“In the same way you can A/B test and analyse the impact of user experience changes online, this has the potential to allow us to do similar tests in the physical space.”

For example, Hammerson could use the new system to see if events or different types of signage impact customer flow and footfall for its tenants. Monitoring how visitors interact with the facilities within its destinations will help Hammerson tweak its own operations, too.

“This trial captures data that tenants don’t currently collect so it gives them additional insight which they can use to improve and step up their offer,” Malloch adds.

“We want to move away from anecdotal to something that feels more scientific and will truly add value back to our retailers and, subsequently, customers.”

The use of Deepnorth is one of several recent technology deployments at Hammerson’s shopping centres and digital assets. In 2019 alone, it has rolled out chatbots for individual centre websites, and introduced 'Shop Online' portals to drive tenants’ online traffic.

Malloch comments: “Our centres are incredibly well known – Birmingham’s Bullring and Brent Cross in London, for example – and we think we have a role to play in driving traffic [for partners] in the physical and digital space.”

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