Anna Kozina, Key Account Manager at the German facility services specialist Wisag. Credit: Wisag
Opinion

Bundling Together the Shopping Center Industry’s Innovative Powers

What does the future expect from us and what do we expect from the future? No other industry is as influenced by people as retailers and the shopping center industry.

BY ANNA KOZINA

What is banally described with the word “consumption” is, at its core, the satisfaction of a person’s needs and desires. Digitization can help to match supply and demand more quickly, precisely, and sometimes more “playfully.” But what will customers accept over the long term? In what areas will they wish to have direct contact—personal, and empathetic counsel instead of the recommendation of a digital assistant?

What role can the shopping center industry take on here? What services and technologies will it possess in the future and what is to be expected? A complex issue that is still in its infancy for the shopping center industry—like many other industries.

The core ideas of our first “innovation forge” were to discuss cooperation, exchange experiences and assessments, and generate impetus and new approaches. Participants discussed intensively the prospects for “digital business models” in the areas of “technology,” “Facility Management,” “bricks-and-mortar stores versus e-commerce,” and “real estate” in four different workshops. The participants were from both completely different industries and total competitors.

It would be presumptuous to say at the end of the first nationwide innovation forge of its kind with prominent participants from the shopping center industry that we now already know the right steps to take in the future. But it is correct to say that intensive work in the four workshops determined the strengths, weaknesses, risks, and opportunities of the “status quo” at the beginning of the “digital shopping center age.”

An important finding: Only 40% of companies have a central digital strategy, while 35% report problems keeping up with development. But the participants were unanimous in their opinion that the cooperation of many actors leads to “economies of scale” and that coordinated management of digital technologies in this context delivers significant added value.

It was not just discussion of these individual points that formed the basis for further creative and strategic thought experiments. A very harmonious and constructive spirit could be felt throughout the entire day. There was no trace of biting competition. Maybe that is what the players of the shopping center industry are looking for now?

The competition for customers, the visitors to shopping centers, is not only a question of the perfect location, but one of the aggregate mix of tenant structure, a comfortable atmosphere, convenient infrastructure, and a maximum of flexibility in terms of the range of goods, opening times, and service. Digital technology can be a useful aid here. The same rules do not apply for every site. But we know: Comparable audiences—shopping center customers—behave very similarly.

My conclusion: It is easier to shape innovation and take the right steps when we work together. Perhaps this is the most important insight for the future, although the maxim “done is better than perfect” will continue to hold.

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