Interview: Vale Retail adding value to its shopping centres via mobile services
Chris Willans, co-founder of Vale Retail – which manages/owns 12 shopping centres around the UK and one in Germany, says: “Getting vitality and growth into shopping centres is more than just putting a [to let] board in a window or on the internet. For secondary sites you’ve got to work hard to attract anything other than pound shops – like embracing the internet and mobile.”
Taking a pro-active approach has led Vale to pioneer the use of mobile-optimised sites for each of its centres in the UK. Other malls are beginning to offer free Wi-Fi and Westfield has recently appointed an e-commerce director, but Willans says Vale is the first to launch dedicated mobile-optimised sites for each of its schemes.
Through a partnership with Mobileweb the company has used the mobile specialist’s platform m.Discovery to deliver branded sites that can take advantage of geo-location, mapping, directions, search capabilities, and QR codes functionality.
Willans says it is still early days – having launched only two weeks ago – with the initial proposition including navigation around the centres and details of the services available in each of them.
The service is presently available at the Whitgift centre in Croydon and The Cornbow centre in Halesowen, in the Midlands, where shoppers access it by simply scanning one of the QR codes displayed around the schemes.
The plan is to roll-out to two or three centres per week to ensure that all 12 Vale Retail developments will have their own mobile-optimised sites up and running ahead of Christmas. Willans says the early response from shoppers and retailers has been “fantastic” and that both local and national retailers are embracing the initiative.
He is hopeful that they will interact with it because this will then make it a more valuable tool for shoppers, which will ultimately benefit the merchants. The push, therefore, is to get the retailers to propagate the sites with data – such as phone numbers, offers and promotions – in order that that they become notice-boards providing an “immediate way for retailers to engage” with customers.
“I’ve spoken to them before and not one single one said they would not get involved. We’ve created something that the retailers appreciate. The more [information] we put out there for shoppers the more worthwhile it will be,” he explains.
What makes the mobile-optimised sites appealing, according to Willans, is that they are very “straightforward” to use unlike Wi-Fi that typically requires log-ins and the input of personal data by shoppers: “It’s a basic data interchange, a standalone conduit of information specific to each shopping centre. Once people have been drawn into the centres then the sites let the retailers engage with them.”
Thinking ahead, he says the service can also be opened up into Groupon as well as any national offers that the retailers are running. There is also the potential to utilise the data that the sites create by analysing it for shopper behaviour and for gaining insight into the usage of the centres.
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