OAK BROOK, IL–What exactly is Big Data? “It’s as formidable as the name sounds,” says Maria Pope Toliopoulos, SVP and director of national retail leasing and services for RPAI. “It’s taking all of the transaction points, WiFi profile information and consumer provided data from a websites like rewards program, and consolidating it in a way to make strategic operational decisions.”
These can range, she says, from merchandising and marketing to inventory control and real estate strategies and, as such, are useful for retailer and landlord alike. “It’s all a matter of how you slice and dice the data, and ultimately use it,” she says.
As you could imagine, tech capabilities have pushed customer profiling well beyond the simpler days of traffic counting on a clicker as they stepped over the threshold or passed the store at certain times of day. “It’s really about how you’re capitalizing on those opportunities,” says Toliopoulos. “Traffic is irrelevant if you can’t get potential customers to make a purchase in your store or be influenced by the store to purchase online.”
Now it’s about customer performance, she says, and retailers ahead of the tech curve are watching what you as a shopper are clicking on, what sites you went to before clicking on theirs and which you went to after. Retailers are cookie monsters, and when you agree to browse a site that uses them, you’re agreeing in a sense to go public with the data you share.
As a result, “Retailers have a better sense of how to market directly to me, not me as a class or type of shopper, but me, Maria. Customized coupons and specials are made possible by that competitive advantage as are specials targeted for one’s birthday and curated suggestions based on my previous purchases and browsing patterns.
“They can also use my cellphone and WiFi signals to track where my cellphone goes throughout the shopping center and where that cellphone resides in the evening,” she continues. Not surprisingly, they can also track your browsing preferences, not only on the computer but in-store as well, a capability aided immensely by the growing use of so-called smart-dressing rooms and magic mirrors, which can give customers a change in lighting and 360 views of design–recording your preferences for color and style all the time.
Toliopoulos cites a recent Wall Street Journal article that likened customer traffic to baseball. “The traffic count is how many times you’re at bat,” she explains. “Your conversion rate is how many hits you have, how many of those potential customer you were able to transact with and what their average price point was.” In a very real sense, this is Moneyball.
“We’re seeing more time and money being spent on understanding these conversion rates,” she says, adding that the trend is beneficial to the retailer and the landlord alike. “Online retailers can take that data, understand who their customer is and open brick-and-mortar locations knowing where their core-shopper already reside,” she says. “They can use it as an opportunity to both service the shopper they have and target new customers.”
Toliopoulos says RPAI is in talks with a number of providers to develop a meaningful data program. The executives of the REIT see it as an opportunity to form “a true partnership with our retailers. The more we can work together holistically, the more we can focus on ensuring that we have the best merchandising at a shopping center, that we’re getting the highest and best traffic and that we’re getting guests to stay longer by providing the products and services they need.”
And to that extent, Big Data is a win as well for the customer being serviced.