How connectivity can turn retail areas into leisure spaces

Isabelle Hervouet

Europe Director of Digital, Acquisition & Customer Engagement, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield

In 2018, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield shopping centres logged 4 million Wi-Fi connections across Europe. Its app has 400,000 to 500,000 users a month – and counting. This leading commercial property company has teamed up with Orange to offer visitors ever-more reliable and efficient connectivity and all-new shopping experiences in its buildings. Isabelle Hervouet, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s Europe Director of Digital, Acquisition & Customer Engagement, tells us more.

How exactly does connectivity enhance the visitor experience in shopping centres and help turn them into leisure spaces?

Isabelle Hervouet: It plays a vital role. Our visitors no longer come here just to shop. They go to the cinema, enjoy a meal in our restaurants, co-work or even just meet up with friends. To attract and retain such a hyperconnected audience, the network has to work flawlessly, even when you’re three floors underground! We provide two types of Wi-Fi connection: a free one everyone can use and an unlimited very high-speed one for our loyalty programme members.

How are you using connectivity in innovative ways?

I. H.: First of all, to provide practical services. For example, the geolocation features in our app help people find their way around our shopping centres – which sometimes have up to 300 stores. They also help people find their cars more easily with the Smart Parking service. We also use the network to communicate with our visitors in real time. With their consent, we send them push notifications to tell them about a special offer or invite them to an event nearby. The result is really impressive as customers are already in the building, so the messages are significantly more effective. More generally, connectivity is a fantastic tool to measure and manage activity in a shopping centre and optimise the visitor experience. We’re using it more and more for entertainment, too. When Pokémon Go was all the rage, we turned our shopping centres into proper gaming platforms. Thousands of customers came along to play every Saturday. Keeping the network up and running properly with all those people using it to chase Pokémon was a technical feat. And the operation was a big hit – the people who came along posted loads of content about it on social media.

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Is connectivity changing the way shopping centres and partner shops work together?

I. H.: We use it to power virtual reality attractions or beam content to screens, equip seating areas with charging docks and things like that. But Unibail-Rodamco- Westfield operates the connectivity in the shopping centre, not in the actual shops. In the past, our job was merely to get people to come to the shopping centre. That’s changing. With our loyalty programmes (which have seven million members), we’re getting to know more and more about our visitors and the things they’re interested in. We’re using our CRM tools to direct them to the brands they like (or might like), and that has a direct impact on business in shops. That’s why we’re working on more and more partnerships and joint operations.

Can connectivity help bricks-andmortar shops compete with e-commerce?

I. H.: You can’t separate the offline and online channels today. We’re encouraging our partners to provide more bricksand- clicks and all-new experiences in shops that customers will talk about on Facebook or Instagram. But we have to be careful with gimmicky innovation. It has to genuinely be relevant for customers: they have to find it helpful.

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