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So much data: How to approach location, tenant mix and marketing

December 1, 2020

“Consumer data allows us to understand who the core customers are of any specific retail or restaurant brand,” said Tim White, a senior vice president at Buxton, a consumer intelligence technology firm that has helped such brands as Orangetheory Fitness and urgent-care chain CityMD identify new markets. “It makes it possible to go deeper than demographics to answer questions about how these consumers live their lives, how they spend their money and where they live, work, play and shop. This information changes the site-selection process by helping brands to be smarter and more efficient in deciding where to put a location.”

In the past, retailers and shopping center owners relied heavily on demographic information, shopper-intercept surveys and psychographic segmentation to decide where to open new stores or how to merchandise and market centers. Today, they also have access to the detailed, real-time information on the lives and habits of existing and potential customers to which White referred.

“Where analytics is not just changing but aiding in site selection starts with extremely granular customer data,” he said. Using Wi-Fi, beacons, sensors and apps, many already collect visitor data, which gives them insight into the behavior of consumers within their properties. Now, they also can tap into mass mobile data — anonymized data gathered from the GPS trackers in smartphones — to pinpoint where their consumers live. That allows them to define trade areas more accurately. Data culled from social media sites, e-commerce platforms, loyalty programs and point-of-sale systems also may provide valuable insights.

While the era of Big Data is creating opportunities, it also has created the potential for missteps. How should retailers and shopping center managers navigate the evolving data landscape to make smart decisions about site selection, tenant mix and other matters?

Either develop data expertise or get a data partner who will work with you to add context

“We have unparalleled amounts of new information, but synthesizing that information and making it actionable is a real challenge,” said James Cook, Americas director of retail research for JLL. “We’ve seen a proliferation of data vendors who will create dashboards where you can access large amounts of data, but because they may not have a deep understanding of how our business works, it’s tough to translate that into actionable insight.” Noam Ben-Zvi, co-founder and CEO of location analytics firm Placer.ai, added: “It’s one thing to provide a big Excel sheet filled with numbers and another entirely to create products that make this information easy to access, understand and use. This is a huge piece of the puzzle, as data in a vacuum doesn’t move the needle for a business.” 

Opt for consultants that take a holistic approach to data

“There are so many different data sources out there that I recommend against just picking one,” Cook said. “Instead, partner with a consultant who knows all the data sources and how to understand them.” Also, when vetting data providers and consultants, he suggests, ask them to provide real-world rather than hypothetical examples of how they’ve helped previous clients turn data into actionable insights. One way to tease out that information, Cook adds, is by requesting, “Tell me about a time when one of your clients used this data to make an actionable insight.”

Work with those that heed privacy concerns

Look for service providers that have robust security measures to protect corporate data and that use third-party audits to verify their security practices, says White. The way companies handle consumer data is another consideration, such as stripping consumer data of personally identifiable information, he says. “There are methodologies that protect the anonymity of consumers to avoid any concerns from a privacy perspective but still allow us to get granular in our analyses."

Get to know your market

Mass mobile data can help retailers identify markets and submarkets that are home to high concentrations of existing customers and plan accordingly in terms of real estate decisions, says CBRE senior managing director for the Americas Todd Caruso. Mass mobile data, he explains, can help shopping center owners ensure their merchandising strategies reflect the needs and desires of consumers in their trade areas, as trade areas may evolve because of demographic shifts and real estate development. He explained: “From an owner’s perspective, it’s: Where is my shopper coming from? What is his or her profile? If I know that [information] and develop a merchandise mix to respond to that [core] client, I’m limiting my downside risk and enhancing the prospects of that property being successful.”

“You always want to meet the market. You don't want to overshoot it,” said Caruso, noting that markets that once could support Tiffany & Co. or other high-end brands now may be better suited to more-affordable merchants.

Consider your time horizon

Intalytics president Justin Tischler — whose firm provides predictive analytics tools, technologies and consulting to retailers, restaurant chains and others seeking location-related insights — says decisions with long-term implications, such as signing a 20-year lease or building a new store, should be based largely on data that reflects stable, pre-COVID conditions. Such information might include long-term demographic, population, employment and mobility-data trends. “Be mindful of trends that have accelerated during COVID, such as work from home or e-commerce adoption, but make those long-term decisions in the context of stable, pre-COVID data, as we expect there to be some degree of return to normal,” he explained.

For short-term tactical decisions, such as how to generate incremental business via marketing, look to contemporary data, he says. Ask, for instance, which existing locations need marketing support? Which individuals, households or areas should you target to generate incremental revenue from your existing portfolio based on recent data like mobility patterns, perhaps influx of residents from core urban markets, unemployment trends or possibly the closure of competing stores? “It’s important to recognize and act on short-term changes in behavior to stay relevant to today’s consumer,” Tischler said.

By Anna Robaton

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today

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