ECE’s digital assistance
The mall operator is about to deploy Mallcomm’s digital app across Europe to improve landlord/tenant communications. Paul Strohm reports.
Shopping centres can be likened to complex machines, and communication – between landlord, the many centre management functions, retailers and customers – can be compared to the oil that keeps the parts moving with minimum friction.
Of course, ‘communication’ encompasses a wide and diverse range of message types, subjects and data. Clearly, this lends itself to digitalisation, and the complexity of a shopping centre and the number of people involved in running it means that reliance on SMS texts or email alone is unlikely to bring efficiency or remove the risk of miscommunication.
This was the challenge faced by ECE Marketplaces, part of Hamburg-based ECE Group, which manages about 200 shopping centres in 13 countries across Europe – including 40 centres outside Germany. Every day, about 4 million customers visit shopping centres managed by ECE where about 20,000 retailers generate total annual sales of around €22.7 billion from a collective sales area of approximately 7 million sq m.
In response to this communication challenge, ECE Marketplaces is launching the Mallcomm app in its malls, initially in 106 centres with total space of more than 3.5 million sq m and – the key statistic – more than 12,300 retail tenants.
This first batch of centres includes well-known retail destinations such as Adigeo in Verona, Italy; Arkad in Budapest, Hungary; Olympia-Einkaufszentrum in Munich, and Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum in Hamburg, Germany.
Mallcomm is described as “a tenant engagement platform” and it is designed for use on smart phones. It is an off-the-shelf product and is already used by a number of well-known shopping centre owners such as Brookfield and Oxford Properties. In each instance it is tailored to individual needs because each requirement is different.
“It is basically a platform that enables central property management teams to communicate with tenants, and consumers as well, but with ECE it’s just tenants at this point,” explains Joanna Fisher, ECE Marketplaces CEO. “For now we are rolling out the app in some of our shopping centres in Germany, Austria, Italy and Hungary then we will follow with the rest of the rollout next year.
“We believe that at the operational level it’s very important to digitalise,” she adds. “We are focusing first on features to improve the exchange of information between centre management and tenants, directly, on site at the shopping centres.”
Michelle Buxton, CEO of Mallcomm parent company Toolbox, adds: “It’s really bringing these two much closer together, so that they operate as a partnership, tenants can always get hold of the property manager and vice versa, and everyone knows what’s going on all of the time.”
‘By increasing their turnover by providing the add-ons that we are working on it will bring more value to retail businesses.’
Joanna Fisher, ECE Marketplaces
ECE will widen the functionality of its version of Mallcomm later. “We will add further features that maximise the benefits of our relationship with tenants in terms of what we can do together with them to obtain more information, feed it into our systems and develop additional benefits for them,” Fisher says. “This will also generate more content and provide details of the businesses which can be used internally at ECE using technology such as CRM systems, which will go even further to build better relationships with tenants.”
But for the time being, Mallcomm will provide more basic organisational communications such as opening times and information about safety and security: “All those issues that you need to know about in order to operate your shop in a good and proper way,” Fisher adds.
Sometimes responses will be needed. “If you have 200 shops in the shopping centre, and you know that only the boss of each shop can sign something, this is horrible work if you have to do it manually. With digitalisation it is possible to give necessary information to the tenant very quickly and efficiently.”
Once ECE has the basic Mallcomm functions bedded in, the next step will be to enable retailers to add more information such as turnover figures. “This is necessary to give us a better understanding of the retailers and their development,” says Fisher. “With the right figures we will be able to make more accurate projections of how the business will develop, and connect back to tenants and say ‘there is something that you should have a look at, this is what we can see already, based on our experience of many shopping centres and tenants’.”
Crucially, Mallcomm can also indicate whether a recipient has read an important piece of information or not. “When your security guard hands a piece of paper over, nine times out of 10, even if it gets to the right person you have no idea whether they’ve read it or not,” says Fisher. “The app makes sure that you know who’s read it and even more importantly, who hasn’t read it, so then you can follow up.”
Another key step will be the ability to link to each tenants’ headquarters functions, which has previously been challenging because every retailer tends to have a different system.
While the initial phases will focus on the business-to-business role of Mallcomm, there is a business-to-consumer capability and the app can link to shoppers as well. “The app is a very important building block in our overall digitalisation strategy,” says Fisher. “It closes a gap between our business-to-consumer and our business-to-business systems so we can use it as a direct channel so that retailers can receive orders and reservations from our omnichannel platform Digital Mall.”
ECE’s Digital Mall is a webshop that provides shopping centre tenants with the possibility to show their local inventory on the centre website. Consumers can look at the Digital Mall to browse for products, check their availability and reserve an item before buying in store. In Alstertal Einkaufszentrum, Hamburg, the system has gone a step further and customers can buy articles from the mall’s website and get them delivered directly from the mall.
“So it is important to connect to tenants’ warehouse systems. Mallcomm means we will already have a technology system on site in the shops and the potential to connect all those orders from Digital Mall to the tenants’ warehouse system via their shops,” Fisher says.
The main purpose of installing Mallcomm is to make the business of running shopping centres faster and more efficient, she adds. “This is the main reason to speed up communication with the tenants. But by increasing their turnover by providing the add-ons that we are working on it will bring more value to retail businesses because we bring the online and offline offers together. Working together like this will forge a better, more trustful partnership.”
And for the future, “the new platform does a really good job of collecting data so can be used to improve ESG or to collect any data that is needed to understand how a centre is running”.