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Reimagining the way retailers do business

Betsy Farber
Reimagining the way retailers do business Betsy Farber

In his keynote at the iMedia Breakthrough Summit in Atlanta, Georgia, Kevin McKenzie, global chief digital officer of Westfield Labs, discussed how the convergence of physical and digital is transforming the shopping experience.

Retail is in a whole new mindset, and it's all because consumers have changed the way they shop. "Technology is influencing the consumer more than ever," McKenzie said. Although, disruption can be scary, Westfield acknowledged that it needed to adapt. The solid 54-year-old company -- made up of 99 shopping areas around the world, hosting 20,000 retailers, and equating to about a billion shoppers a years -- was looking to drive the change within the retail industry. This is where the company brought McKenzie on board to facilitate the convergence into "phygital," the budding industry term, and to help create Westfield Labs.

In order to make real changes, Westfield had to start by defining its purpose, which was:

  1. To create an environment of innovation at Westfield

  2. To protect and reinforce its core physical retail business

  3. To build new assets with long term value

Although it may not seem obvious to brick-and-mortar retailers, digital can only enhance the shopping experience for consumers. Westfield had the insights -- and the data -- to prove it.

  • 46 percent of retailers have the ability to check other stores or online stock quickly

  • 32 percent feature in-store Wi-Fi with fast, simple login

  • 27 percent have sales associates who can take payment without going to the cash register

  • 23 percent have sales associates with tablets to show you alternative products

"Digital is now a part of the brick-and-mortar experience," said McKenzie, noting examples like Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom, which have both incorporated in-store technology. And on the flipside, pure online companies like Warby Parker and Birchbox are now going into the physical world. To today's consumers, it's really about commerce shopping by whatever means is available.

Westfield then asked how it can stay relevant in this changing space. There was no digital legacy with Westfield, so McKenzie had the opportunity to build the ecosystems and infrastructure from scratch. He focused on repositioning the company as a host, not just a retailer, and by serving visitors, not customers. And he notes his approach, along with Westfield's, was "not just doing tech for tech's sake." This is a common misconception that can be adopted when companies are updating technology and company relevancy, McKenzie noted.

Taking all of this into consideration, Westfield Labs was then conceived. Over the past 18 months, the concept has been developed and tested, and here are just some areas where it has focused:

  • Consumer web and mobile apps

  • Mapping and in-center way-finding

  • Creating a global publishing platform

  • API development and management

  • Big data and analytics

Westfield Labs seeks to create a seamless consumer experience that, in turn, drives purchases to the brands. "The opportunity is seized when you merge the digital touch points with the physical," McKenzie said.

For any retail company looking to follow suit within the retail space, building a global digital strategy is key. Westfield focuses on:

  1. Driving foot traffic to physical retailers

  2. Creating a more engaging in-mall experience

  3. Creating an ongoing dialogue with shoppers between mall visits

"The whole physical world is becoming available on demand," said McKenzie. And the retail convergence is just beginning. At the end of the day, brands have the power to control all the touch points of the consumer retail journey. McKenzie emphasized, "It's about creating an experience."

Betsy Farber is an associate editor at iMedia Connection.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Betsy Farber

Betsy graduated from Fordham University, at Lincoln Center in New York with a B.A. in Communications/Journalism. Before coming to iMedia, Betsy was a writer for DrinkEatTravel.com where she covered restaurant openings and food events in Los...

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