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Online search platform helps shopping centres go digital

Mirvac Retail yesterday announced plans to expand its partnership with online search platform Mall Ops, in a move that puts digital customers at the heart of traditional bricks-and-mortar retail.

The platform allows shoppers to visit the Broadway Sydney website, and instead of simply seeing a list of retail tenants, they can actually search for specific products across retailers in the shopping centre.

For instance, shoppers can search for a specific style of Nike shoe and see which stores in the shopping centre have it in stock, such as Rebel, Hype DC or Nike itself. Depending on the retailer, they may be redirected to the company’s e-commerce site to purchase, or they can choose to contact the store directly.

As co-founder and CEO of Mall Ops’ parent company Productify, Doron Ostrin, told Internet Retailing, the platform delivers a much better customer experience than has previously been available to shopping centre visitors.

“In the past, you just had to think which stores in a shopping centre might carry the product and make your way around the centre in person,” he said.

Mirvac’s decision to expand the partnership with Mall Ops follows a proof-of-concept at its Broadway Sydney centre in December 2017.

Since launching the search platform, Broadway Sydney has appeared in 354,885 product searches online and attracted over 36,000 users on the website, enhancing the centre’s visibility during the crucial shopping search phase, according to Mirvac.

The shopping centre manager plans to offer the search technology to other centres in Australia this year.

“It’s a way for us to use technology to support our retailers online,” said Timothy Weale, national manager of retail solutions at Mirvac.

More digital initiatives to come

The partnership is just one part of the shopping centre manager’s broader strategy to adopt digital and other innovative technologies and services to appeal to ‘connected urban consumers’. This includes a partnership with Foodora to make it easier for hospitality businesses in Mirvac centres to sell through the online food delivery platform, thanks to dedicated parking areas for Foodora drivers.

Weale said Mirvac is also in talks with rideshare companies to figure out how to better leverage rideshare centres moving forward and will be making a significant investment in data analytics.

Weale noted that digital technology has changed the relationship between shopping centre managers and their retail tenants, many of which not only sell online and in-store, but also offer click-and-collect or fulfil online orders from the store.

This blurring of the lines has raised questions in the landlord-tenant relationship, not least about lease agreements. Without getting into specifics, Weale acknowledged that Mirvac is taking a new approach to lease agreements.

“The value that we offer as a retail landlord and how that value is measured will definitely be evolving from a more traditional model,” he said.

“We’re excited about exploring those options over the next 12 months as our retailers become more successful in the new model.”

Shopping centres finally catching up

Productify’s Ostrin said Mirvac’s adoption of online search is a sign that shopping centres are finally catching up to the new reality of e-commerce.

“In the past, shopping centres were facilities managers. They made sure the bathrooms were clean and the lights were turned on. But that has changed over the past few years,” he said.

“The first step for many shopping centres was rolling out of wi-fi, but there’s so much more to a good customer experience than wi-fi and parking. Now they’re thinking about how they can help customers find what they’re looking for from the first touchpoint…the research phase.”

But while Mirvac may be among the first movers in this space, it will not have the lead for long. According to Ostrin, there will be many more roll outs of the Mall Ops platform in Australia this year.

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