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Shopping centres are merging physical with digital, says new report

Shopping centres are adapting to evolving technology and consumer behaviour by merging physical and digital formats through initiatives such as beacon technology, offering wi-fi and launching virtual fit technology, a new report has found.

The report, published today by retail property trade body the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) and City law firm Addleshaw Goddard, said digital innovations are being employed to future-proof the nation’s shopping centres.

It suggested the uses for beacon technology, which sends a signal to shoppers’ smartphones, could prove endless and will allow retailers to have a direct line to their customers and to attach digital content to everything in the physical store. Westfield is one shopping centre group that is developing iBeacon technology for its centres globally.

The report said: “Excitement around beacons, wearables, mapping and digital wallets could catapult the shopping experience to exciting new heights. Whether it’s the ability to have a Siriguided personal shopping experience, where recommended items are ready and waiting when you walk in; or the
potential for a 3D printing bakery piping out your children’s favourite cartoon character, customer experience is set to be redefined.”

The report added local wi-fi networks have become a key part in connecting with shoppers. It said beacons are now in use across many retail areas such as London’s Regent Streeet and Westfield malls.

It points out that virtual mirror technology, where customers can try on clothes virtually through magic mirrors or body scanners without actually trying on clothes is one of the “many applications “ that is likely to drive people towards physical stores.

Interactive mapping apps could also soon provide tailored personal shopping guides, and serve up recommendations and vouchers.

Jane Hollinshead, partner at Addleshaw Goddard, said: “The recession and move to online shopping clearly meant both retailers and landlords were forced to change their approach. But companies need their customers to interact in a hands-on fashion with their brands. New technology takes this to a whole new level and what we’re seeing is a genuine blurring of online and offline shopping.”

Edward Cooke, director of policy and public affairs at BCSC, added: “There’s a clear role for property companies to get closer to the consumer and find how new technology product development is impacting consumer purchasing decisions. Shopping centres can create incubator space for start up businesses, in a way we probably more often associate with the office sector.”

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