Opinion

Customer Satisfaction Begins with Parking

Competition from online retailers is forcing shopping centers to reassess their retail concepts.

By Philippe Op de Beeck

Philippe Op de Beeck,  CEO of Apcoa Parking Group. Image: Apcoa
Philippe Op de Beeck,
CEO of Apcoa Parking Group. Image: Apcoa

New attractions and more comfortable atmospheres are the name of the game. As the first experience most visitors have of a shopping center is its car park, it is only natural that parking facilities are at the top of the agenda. From the very first moment they enter a shopping center’s car park, visitors need to know that they are enjoying a complete retail experience—in which their comfort is the top priority.

In 2016, e-commerce once again enjoyed double-digit growth. According to the German E-Commerce and Distance Selling Trade Association (bevh), one in every eight euros spent in the German retail sector no longer lands in a stationary retailer’s cash register.

This means that shopping centers are coming under increased pressure. Convenient locations, short distances between shops, a world of experience under a single roof, and an attractive assortment of retailers have always been strong enough propositions to attract consumers, but online shops have now emerged as increasingly direct competitors. As far as convenience is concerned, it is difficult to beat the ease of shopping via smartphone, tablet, or notebook.

Consequently, shopping centers need new concepts to retain digital-savvy young consumers and they won’t be able to turn the tide with conventional approaches. Even in the world of offline shopping, digital services need to be exploited to increase convenience and enhance the consumer retail experience.

Parking facilities have an important role to play in all of this. The short stroll from the car park to the shopping center has traditionally been a major plus for this retail model—but there is certainly room for improvement. In our digital world, the wait at a car park’s entry and exit barriers can be eliminated.

The time spent at a payment machine is equally redundant. Instead, customers can benefit from automatic invoicing and cashless payment processes. Finally, online reservations are another important digital service, allowing customers to pre-book attractive parking spaces.

Globen Shopping Center, Stockhom, Sweden. Image: Apcoa
Globen Shopping Center, Stockhlom, Sweden. Image: Apcoa

Apcoa has already demonstrated the great potentials provided by digitalization in the parking sector with its “Park & Go” concept in Stockholm’s Globen shopping center. The car park is equipped with cameras to scan vehicle license plates as they enter and exit the facility, eliminating delays at barriers and dispensing with the need for tickets.

Payments can be made at dedicated terminals, online, or via invoice. To keep traffic flowing smoothly within the parking area, lighting has also been installed to indicate vacant and occupied parking spaces. The volume of complaints made by car park users at Globen Shopping fell by 98% in the wake of the modernization program.

Customers who use the parking facilities in Luxembourg’s new Royal Hamilius shopping center, which Apcoa is scheduled to open in spring 2018, will also benefit from state-of-the-art technologies. Barriers will open automatically for registered customers thanks to windshield-mounted RFID chips and parking fees can be conveniently invoiced at the end of each month.

For retailers, the smart management of their parking facilities opens a world of new possibilities. Car park operators can become a key channel for communicating with customers, enabling retailers to gain deeper insights into their customers, many of whom will become registered users to take advantage of the extra comfort and convenience. This means that a center will be able to make targeted and personalized offers to visitors from the moment they enter the shopping center’s car park.

Car parks already generate attractive yields of around 5.5% and digitalization will only deliver even more attractive yields. In turn, the market values of these properties will also increase. In addition, digital solutions provide shopping centers with the strong argument that they are pursuing sustainable and environmentally-friendly solutions.

After all, the pre-booking of parking spaces, which reduces the time motorists spend driving around looking for a vacant space, makes it possible to deliver significant reductions in CO2 emissions.

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