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As the premier global developer and operator of flagship shopping destinations, investment in innovation has been key to driving Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s position in the market.   At the heart of URW’s innovation strategy is the Innovation Centre URW Lab, established with the overall aim “To create better places together” through the missions “to understand, transform and involve.” 

Over the last two years, URW has partnered with Toolbox Group to develop their retail community operations and engagement platform Mallcomm under the URW Lab business accelerator programme URW Link.  In this feature, we look at what this partnership involves and why it is a success story built on true collaboration between landlord and their innovation partner.   

What is Connect and where is it used? 

Branded Connect for URW, Mallcomm was chosen as the technology through which their centre teams communicate with retailers and with each other, and through which operations would be more efficiently managed.  Connect is utilised in all areas of running a shopping centre. 

Examples of the types of functionality include ticketing for operational tasks, auditing, sales collection, CRM, critical communication, retailer-to-retailer offers, news, feedback and job vacancies.  Ongoing development includes improving URW’s access and control strategy, and provide to their tenants and team with easy tools to manage access to their centres.

Since an initial pilot in July 2015 at Parquesur in Madrid, Connect has now been deployed in 48 centres across 11 countries including Netherlands, France, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the UK.   A further 11 centres are planned in Germany and they are looking to deploy the solution in the US.  

More than 65,300 users have joined the Connect community across URW’s portfolio.  The platform connects centre teams with more than 8,300 retailers, and more than 90% of all tenants are actively using the app as their main form of communication with centre management teams.    

Connect is making a difference for centres of all sizes.  It has improved the management of communications and operations in Shopping City Sud in Austria, the country’s largest and in the Top 10 in Europe in its retail community of 330 stores.  In contrast, Carousel Du Louvre is home to only 38 stores but its central Paris location makes Connect a crucial communications tool. Other centres using Connect include Chodov in Prague the largest in the Czech Republic, the Mall of Scandinavia in Stockholm and Centro in Oberhausen, Germany. 

What was the main reason for implementing Connect? 

Alexis Veron, URW Head of Shopping Centre Management Quality and Services
Corporate Operations Europe explains:  “We were looking for a way to make communication and interaction easier between shopping centre management and retailers. With Connect we saw the potential to create community and build the retailer-centre relationship.  We saw that it could create a sense of belonging by improving the life of the centre and the service provided to its customers.

“We also saw the potential for Connect to be more than ‘just a marketing tool.’ We have worked closely with Toolbox Group in the last months to develop Connect so it brings together full management and operational functionality into one powerful platform. Through features such as ticketing, auditing and sales collection, there was an opportunity to use Connect to not only manage our community but also to create operational efficiencies within all teams”

What difference has it made within the business? 

Alexis Veron explains: “More than 90% of our tenants are onboard on Connect, and we have now the capacity to have better communication and collect feedback more easily through newsletters, the survey, the ticketing system for the tenants.  

“The technology has helped to streamline processes and makes everyone more efficient. Many centre employees are non-desk workers and the platform provides an easy way of communicating and managing operational tasks, whether that is between the management team staff or retailers and centre teams.  All communication is recorded and the platform enables powerful reporting measuring response times and flow of data.

“Retailer staff-to-staff discounts are also a very popular feature with on average per centre this area being accessed per centre more than 16,000 times, helping to drive sales from the captive retail communities, across the portfolio this is over 50,000 retail staff.  Also supporting their business are the average of 14,000 views of job vacancies per centre.  

“Connect is more than just an app, it’s also a platform to help our shopping centre management team and providers to work with better connections.”

How does Connect fit into URW’s wider innovation strategy? 

URW has looked at every area of the business to see where it can use not only technology but other innovative practices or programmes to understand, transform and evolve within its retail communities.  Alexis adds: “Connect has made a major contribution to both understanding how our centres are running and the types of conversations we’re having with retailers, but also to making our centres better places to be as a result of stronger relationships we now have with our retailers.”

What has this collaboration meant for Toolbox Group, Mallcomm and URW? 

Michelle Buxton, Toolbox Group Managing Director, explains: “When we first started talking to URW, Mallcomm was already a proven platform making a difference in retail communities of all sizes, but in order to grow and develop we needed a like-minded partner with scale that would support our continuous product development. 

“Under URW Link both sides have realised the benefits from a truly innovative and collaborative partnership.  Mallcomm is a grown-up not a start-up but we never cease to develop the product, and working jointly with URW, both sides are inspired to keep Mallcomm leading PropTech.”   

From URW’s view, Alexis adds: “Toolbox Group is a fitting partner for URW because of their agility and hunger to continue to innovate.  They are flexible and always willing to adapt but are also a highly proactive partner who brings new ideas to the table. Connect has, and will continue to grow in the collaborative spirit of our partnership.”