Just like a smart house, a smart shopping center is a future concept that comes with big changes for everyone: owners, tenants and visitors. Today, it’s no longer surprising to hear talk of smart parking lots servicing self-driving cars, shopping centers managed by artificial intelligence, personalized offers for every shopper and package-carrying robots that can bring a customer’s purchases to their car, or even their doorstep. Those with a more wild imagination might even picture products being 3D-printed on the spot, according to a customer’s wishes. Obviously, the shopping center of the future is going to be cash-free – payments for goods, services and parking will be handled through customer accounts. But all this is just the tip of the iceberg – digitization of the inner workings of a shopping center will be the much more exciting, and much more complicated part.

Fututec has been working on this challenge for years, and even this is all just the start of a long and exciting journey. Digitizing the management of a shopping center will completely change the way it operates. A lot of classical shopping center jobs will become unnecessary, and the ones that stay will require skills in the use of information systems, and in communicating with artificial intelligences. A digital maintenance and management system will process and pass on all the operational information of the center. That in turn will make management of the shopping center more precise, more predictable and much more effective.

The first and most obvious changes will involve tenants revenue. Up until recently, a property owner would generally gather revenue data from their tenants once per month, by way of e-mail, text message or phone call. Today, this sort of information gathering (and the compiling of tenant invoices based on that information) is already done by automated systems, and the revenue data can be monitored in real time. Cashiering systems are connected to the Fututec platform through an API. This platform makes it possible to gather revenue data for every individual day, or even every individual hour. Such a level of precision is obviously extremely useful for making informed business decisions.

For example, it enables a manager to measure the effects of different marketing strategies on revenue for the center as a whole, or in the context of renter or product groups, while also accounting for otherwise nebulous factors such as the time of day, the day of the week or even the weather. That’s because a smart shopping center can also use external information sources, such as weather forecasts, for planning it’s operations. Based on the analysis of the results of past marketing campaigns, future marketing strategies can be generated and adjusted automatically. Such strategies will assuredly be successful, being based on real and accurate information about visitor numbers and generated revenue.

We can already predict that in the shopping centers of the future, we will no longer see accountants and marketing departments as we know them, but AI can assume responsibility for even more than just predicting revenue and visitor numbers. For example, thermal cameras can be used to map and graph the movements of visitors in the center, determining the attractiveness of certain rental spaces, which can be used to set rental rates for those spaces accordingly. Digitalization will also change the nature of facilities and their maintenance. There will no longer be a need for binders, excel sheets and endless memory sticks, since all the necessary information concerning devices will be available in an online environment. The maintenance of facilities will be planned and run by the AI.

In essence, digitalization will allow us to make the operations of a physical store as easy to measure as those of an online store. It will change the image of a store from the consumer’s viewpoint as well – no more slow cashiers, long check-out lines or boring window displays. The shopping center of the future will be a mix of online and offline retail, entertainment and virtual reality. As strange as it might seem, the only advantage a physical shopping center has over an online store is the retail space – an actual physical place, where the customer can see, hear and feel something more than just a quantity and a price.

And that „something more“ needs to be a memorable experience, such as a movie, show, or dinner with friends. Those shopping centers that understand the benefits of digitalization and invest in it today are the ones that will come out ahead in the changes to come. The digital revolution in the property management of shopping centers will bring with it changes that are as monumental as the changes brought by the industrial revolution back in the day.

Olari Miiter