At Europe’s largest designer outlet*, Outletcity Metzingen, which is located in the city of Metzingen in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, digitalization is successfully making headway. In 2012, the location launched its own online store and was engaged in pioneering activities in the outlet business – even back then. Today, the cornerstone of the omnichannel strategy is comprised of roughly 300 premium and luxury brands and has ensured that it has had an open sales channel even during periods of shutdown.
René Kamm, who has more than 30 years of experience working in management positions at companies such as Unilever, Tag Heuer, and MCH Group in Switzerland, has been the Managing Director of Outletcity Metzingen since March 2020 and describes the shopping destination’s concept for success as follows: “As the world’s only outlet that offers an online store, we have been able to work with external partners to develop an innovative concept that makes future retail tools and omnichannel features possible for the first time in the outlet industry.”
“City Fiber Backbone” As the Foundation
Using the latest technology emerging from the “Future Retail” sector, Outletcity Metzingen has taken the connection of brick-and-mortar retail to online stores and other digital platforms to the next level. The foundation of many digital initiatives is excellent infrastructure. To that end, Holy AG, the operator, has recently invested in new and comprehensive fiber-optic infrastructure, the so-called “City Fiber Backbone”, which provides capacity for future standards, such as 5G. In addition, a state-of-the-art Wi-Fi network is available in all stores, in all open areas, in parking structures and underground parking garages, as well as in restaurants and cafés. Guests, of course, are able to access “Outletcity freeWIFI” free of charge. The Wi-Fi network also enables the optimum use of relevant tools, such as the “Mobile Check-In” function, which was developed in-house. That function, in particular, has proven to be especially useful during high-traffic periods, such as Black Friday. The application allows visitors to use their smartphones to virtually check themselves in to a queue in front of the stores they want to go to via a QR code, thereby enabling them to use the waiting time to shop for other items or take a coffee break. It helps keep queue formation to a minimum and, in combination with the mandatory use of masks and standard hygiene measures, is an essential part of Outletcity Metzingen’s health and safety concept.
A prerequisite and essential component of “Mobile Check-In” is sensalytics, a people-counting system provided by tectuality GmbH. All facilities and outdoor areas have been equipped with sensors in order to be able to evaluate, in real time, how many guests are on the premises at any given time. It goes without saying that the evaluations are carried out in accordance with the highest GDPR-compliant data protection standards. In addition to the strategic and operational control of operations, sensalytics’ web interfaces enable the implementation of additional services that make essential contributions to the execution of and compliance with coronavirus guidelines. All stores, for example, use an app that displays the current number of people allowed inside each store at a time as well as the real-time capacity of each store, thereby ensuring that entry can be regulated in a timely manner during periods of high visitor footfall.
The “Virtual Shopping” feature has also helped to digitally facilitate the on-site shopping experience during this period of the coronavirus pandemic. It is carried out with the help of the “Outletcity WhatsApp Service”. Some of the most popular premium and luxury brands are on hand to assist guests with product inquiries, help them find the items they want, and even send them to their homes if desired. Those who wish to take advantage of exclusive on-site consultancy can simply use the tool to book their preferred appointments at the respective stores.
Another important service available to visitors is the “Outletcity App” for Android and iOS, which provides information about the location of each brand, vacant parking spaces, service options, and current offers, both before and during their stay. As part of the ongoing digitalization process, shopping passes that offer additional discounts, which were previously paper-based, can now be digitally activated directly via the app. The app can also be used to register for the “Outletcity Club”, which offers guests special discounts in the form of coupons and allows them to collect points for each purchase. The points can be redeemed for special rewards, and they enable customers to achieve Gold status, which includes further benefits, such as free parking.
Customer Journey on2off2online
Digital tools are also being used more frequently within the stores themselves to improve customer satisfaction. For example, guests are able to visit outletcity.com to take a detailed look at the available items in the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger mega-stores and to get a bit of inspiration before or during their journey to Metzingen. For the first time, customers are able to take a virtual look inside those stores. In order to enable this, the inventory data of both stores is updated on a regular basis on the Outletcity Metzingen website. Visitors to the Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger stores can expect to find digital screens featuring tools such as the Denim Fit Guide and the Style Scanner. Is it possible to find the right style of jeans, find the right size, and create the perfect look using the Style Scanner? Absolutely! If the desired item is not in stock at the store or if you simply prefer to try something on at home, you can have it conveniently sent to your home address. All Outletcity Online Shop customers have to do is scan the QR codes generated on site with their mobile devices. Then, they are directly routed to the product detail page of the item in the Outletcity Online Shop, where they can continue shopping. With one click, the desired item is ordered via invoice, for example, and delivered to the customer’s home. “The lines between the two worlds of online and offline in the retail industry are becoming increasingly blurred,” concludes Kamm.
On September 2, 2021, René Kamm is scheduled to present Outlet 3.0 at the Shopping Center Forum Switzerland in Zurich, under the Megatrend 2025 umbrella. More info: www.sc-forum.ch
*By sales area or size, according to the “Outlet Centers in Europe” market report, pg. 25 (December 2020), issued by ecostra GmbH, www.ecostra.de/studien_und_marktberichte/outlet-centres-europe_2020-12.pdf