Shopping centre owner Hammerson is focusing on driving footfall and dwell times across its portfolio by boosting its digital offering, it said today after announcing record leasing activity for the six months to 30 June.
Footfall across its centres – which include Brent Cross, Bicester Village, Westquay in Southampton, Victoria Gate in Leeds and Silverburn in Glasgow – fell by 1.7% during the six months.
Hammerson told Drapers it has a number of intiatives planned to address this decline. Among them, it is planning to roll out a “hands-free” shopping service in the second half of the year, after trialling it with The Oracle in Reading. Users of the centre’s Oracle Plus app can leave their bags at the customer service desk while they continue shopping or go for a bite to eat or to the cinema.
Hammerson is also trialling an interactive chatbot on Facebook Messenger, which provides real-time responses to customer queries.
Meanwhile, its visual search app FindSimilar, which was being piloted at Brent Cross, will be formally launched at the shopping centre at the end of July and will be rolled out across the UK by the end of the year.
Chief executive David Atkins told Drapers: “Our number one investment priority is to improve the overall experience in our shopping centres through enhanced technology.
“We’ve seen significant increases in our customer dwell times from this – where customers used to spend an average of an hour at The Oracle, for example, they are now spending in excess of four hours there. Average spend has also increased, from £60 to £90 per head.”
Hammerson announced record leasing activity for the six months, sparking a 9.7% rise in net rental income and a 6% rise in adjusted profits.
Leasing volume for the period was 44% higher than the previous six months, at £18.1m from 228 deals. This is compared to £12.6m from 158 deals for the same period in 2016.
Net rental income rose 9.7% to £184m, up from £167.7m for the same period in 2016. Adjusted profits were up 6% to £119.4m.
Hammerson’s portfolio value also increased, and now sits at £10.5bn – up 5.6% on last year. Atkins said this was in part due to growth in Ireland, as well as its more premium outlets.
However, retail sales on a same-centre basis fell 3.9% in the first half of the year, compared with the first half of 2016.
Atkins said: “We have seen healthy increases across our portfolio, with particularly strong results from our Ireland assets and our outlet centres. Our leasing pipeline at the moment is higher than we’ve experienced in recent years, which will be reflected in the second half of the year.
“We remain confident our income and dividends will grow on the same level.”