Sebastian Baumann, Head of Department Digital Business & Innovations at ECE Marketplaces. Credit: ECE
Cover Story | Feature

Building a bridge between online and offline shopping

“ECE has for many years worked to combine online and offline channels with its own ‘Digital Mall’. In view of the latest developments, there is increased focus on the issue of shipping from the store.”

By Sebastian Baumann

Digitalization represents significant challenges for retail–and did so long before the closure of shopping centers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The fact is that sales at online merchants are increasing, consumer behavior is changing and customer demands are rising. Increasingly, the customer journey now begins online. Preparations for more than half of all purchases are now done at home. The pandemic further accelerated the trend, making everyone aware of this topic. The industry reacted to this trend with different solutions. ECE has for many years worked to combine online and offline channels with its own “Digital Mall”. In view of the latest developments, there is increased focus on the issue of shipping from the store.

For a long time, when customers researched purchases online, they often landed at the major e-commerce providers, not at our shopping centers, whose products could not be found online. For this reason, several years ago ECE developed the “Digital Mall”, which was designed as an online product search tool. This offers our retailers an omni-channel expansion that enables greater reach and more contact points in order to increase brick-and-mortar sales. The “Digital Mall” allows customers to check the availability of their desired product via the shopping center’s digital channels, like the website or the app, and pick it up on-site.

This digital shop window combines the convenience of online shopping with the advantages of a brick-and-mortar store. Customers do not need to forgo individual advice in the shop and the ability to test the products before purchasing them. Thus, the internet becomes a signpost that can lead customers to local retailers. This is because if available products can be viewed in the local shopping center, this may work in favor of a purchase there. 

Because of the restrictions over the past several months, the focus has shifted from checking availability to shipping from the store. Overnight, retailers needed to sell their products online and then ship them from their branches. ECE has long tested the shipment of purchases from shippings using the “Digital Mall” at the Alsterstal shopping center as well as in cooperation with the marketplaces of the Otto Group, like Limango. 

The technical basis of the “Digital Mall” and the connecting element for the collaboration with partners is the Stocksquare digital platform. This platform is a joint venture established by ECE and Otto for expanding “connected commerce” activities. In addition to “ship from store” pilot tests with Limango, as part of a cooperation with Google brick-and-mortar retailers connected to the “Digital Mall” can also display their locally available products on Google Search via the “See What’s In Store” feature.

The “Digital Mall” is now much more than a digital display window for shopping centers. It is the nucleus for everything and the very first step on the way to a transactional platform that offers true omni-channel marketing to centers with real customer impact.

Figures about ECE’s “Digital Mall”:
More than 60 connected shopping centers
44 million people may be reached in the center’s catchment area with the “Digital Mall”
More than 800 stores are participating
More than 3 million items are available online

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