The Event, hosted by TH Real estate, ‘The iGeneration: Investing in Retail for the Future’ focused on the ever-developing role of technology in the collection and usage of data to provide real insight into consumer experience. The central themes discussed at the conference included: utilisation of technology to drive footfall; connecting with consumers; changing consumer attitudes and how retailers and shopping centres must respond to these changes.

The event kicked off with Mary Wallace, Global E-consultancy Leader at IBM iX and Clara Maguire, of The Dandy Lab. With presentations centred around the growth of online sales and increasing prevalence of omni-channel consumption. This drives the need for the industry to better understand its consumers and future trends.

Connecting with Consumers

Stephen Mader of Lego followed with ‘Social Media: Making the Right Connection’. Despite the rise of technology and the expansion of everything online, the humble Lego Brick has flourished. Stephen emphasises the importance of connecting with the shopper base and providing a consistent experience when shopping for Lego branded goods, be it at Lego operated shops or external retailers.

Finding the appropriate Lego product can be challenging for shoppers. Stephen emphasises the distinction between the shopper and the consumer. This disconnect is one of the key challenges, through extensive use of hashtags and social media to bridge the gap. extensive interaction with their consumers inspires customers.

It is the extensive use of technology, through tablets and social media which helps Lego manage its brand in shops in which it has limited operational input. Users of Lego share their work, inspiring and further developing the brand image.

Ever Changing Tribes

Carl-Johan Joensson,Head of Research at IKEA Centres, examines the connection between shoppers, retailers and centres looking at how strategy must adjust to an ever-changing social environment. Mr. Joensson discusses the importance of driving strategy through people. Changes in how people behave and think will profoundly influence the way consumers will interact with retail environments.

Carl gives a holistic review of the changes in our society from changes in urbanisation, the proliferation of the city state and growth of urban centres to changes in social cohesion. These societal changes impact shopping centres in terms of the retailers they retain and their geographical placements.

People have become more insular through the usage of social media, interacting more with those within their ‘Tribe’ rather than engaging with those external to them. One particularly alarming statistic, 70% of people in the USA rely on Facebook as their primary news source, for the most part, the news circulated on Facebook is targeted, creating an echo chamber. Carl emphasises that understanding people will help drive strategy for centres over the coming decade, getting closer to comprehending how people consume products and how centres can respond to these changes. Ikea Centres Moves away from Impersonal OOT strategy to smaller centres more closely intertwined with communities, targeting tribes and closer associations with their local environments.

Virtual Reality and the ‘Gamification of Space’

Devi Kolli, of Ai Solve, put forward the opportunities available in retail for the ‘gamification of space’. Using virtual and augmented reality to drive footfall and dwell time in centres to engage shoppers adds to the set of entertainment and leisure facilities which retailers and shopping centres can draw upon. Devi discusses the opportunities for new revenue streams and engagement of children in retail spaces. The possible uses for VR in retail are vast and varied. In an environment which increasingly focuses on amenities to drive footfall and dwell time there seems to be some considerable scope for Virtual and Augmented Reality to attract consumers and increase demand for space within retail environments.

Technology Driven Information

The conference proceeded with a panel discussion with representatives from firms including Movvo, Coniq and the discussion kicked off with John Godfrey of Movvo. John discusses the importance of the ‘live experiences’ in driving footfall in retail and highlights the magnum pop up concept store as a particularly successful example. From London to Kuala Lumpur these shops generate long queues and footfall approximate to the areas they reside.

John also touches on the importance of understanding one’s customer and attracting the appropriate tribes. One can no longer construct a shopping centre in rural locations and expect shoppers to come. It is genuinely comprehending your customers interests that is crucial. Appealing to specific groups of consumers is the way to develop as a retail destination. John highlights the need to employ data driven analysis over dependence on conjecture and intuition.

Ben Chesser of Coniq, a data driven marketing firm, further delved into the importance of utilisation of software and hardware within a centre to better understand consumers using the centres and how to personalise experience. Using apps and physical tracking hardware to identify consumers, firms can develop a better understanding of wants and needs which can be catered to by centres and retailers. Personalised marketing can be used to build loyalty and increase expenditure.

Nick Brackenbury of Near St, discusses his firms approach to a more personalised shopping experience allowing for improved access to information on local shopping, enhancing convenience. the model of his application is to allow shoppers to easily find products they want locally and buy them, later picking them up or requesting delivery of the product to the end user directly in a short time frame. In an environment where retailers fret about the health of the high street, Near St. might just be the concept to help them in the face of amazon’s threat to local consumption.

The Changing Role of Shopping Centres

The afternoon began with a panel discussion on the topic of the role of a shopping centre in the life of a consumer as they change the way the spend their time in shopping centres. Changing consumer needs signal the requirement to change for centres. From a place where individuals shop to a place where individuals spend time. The Panel discussion primarily considered the changing role of centres as a ‘playground’ where most consumers don’t go with the intention to shop but to enjoy themselves, thus a range of facilities will be required to indulge new consumer desires. Developing an understanding of how consumers spend their time and their new approach to shopping centres will be critical over the coming years. To tailor experiences to the consumer and ensure a fantastic experience not only focused around shopping for goods should be factored into centre strategy.

Utilise Data to inform strategy

Following the panel discussion was Robin Bevan of Javelin Group, a firm specialising in retail strategy research, discussed the importance of using technology and data to become a winning retailer. Robin outlines key areas that a retailer must develop to stay relevant. A management that is willing to engage with new technologies to drive relevant changes within the firm, full utilisation of analytics to drive insight, empowered talent with access to the relevant tools to make more valuable insight, preparation to meet the changes in the market and innovate boldly by investing in research, better understanding the retail climate and determining potential avenues of exploitation.

Alex McCulloch of CACI, a retail and technology consultancy, discusses the findings of the newly available national shopper Survey, which helps retailers to better understand consumers and what drives demand for goods and services. Alex focuses on what inspires people to shop over the next ten years and what changes we will likely see over that period.

Jeremy Collins, of John Lewis, finishes up the day with a discussion of the ways that consumers can now engage with retailers through technology and the associated challenges for retail destinations of how to account for these changes and respond in the appropriate way.

Information about the next RPA conference, Retail Logistics, can be found at

To enhance your understanding of shopping centres and retail, consider signing up to our next Introduction to Shopping Centre Investments Course on the 8th–10th of May or the 16th–18th of October in London.

Retail research analyst, Alasdair Pocock, at Bayfield Training