Shopping Centre

Dial A is for apps

Published:  07 March, 2011

Smartphone apps are opening up new marketing channels for retail destinations.

With smartphones like the iPhone and the BlackBerry on the rise, apps are fast becoming a precious marketing tool with centres up and down the country jostling to develop the best new software.

Apps carry many benefits including communicating key messages to customers, helping users properly navigate centres by searching stores by category – e.g. fashion. And for the centre it can generate key information and data from customers.

A downside is that, as with other new technologies, they can be expensive, costing between £5,000 and £40,000 depending on the complexity of the programming.

“A lot of people come to us and say they want help building an app but they have an ‘I don’t know why I want one, I just want one’ attitude,” says marketing manager of digital business Connect IB, Chris Hull. “You have to think about return on investment and ask yourself is the tool helping you to communicate with your customers and encouraging them to spend more money?”

The Brewery in Romford has recently developed its own iPhone app at a cost of 8 per cent of the annual marketing budget.

Developed for an early 2011 launch, the application will be available as a free download, providing customers with access to retailer information and offers, centre competitions and cinema times as well as providing tenants with ‘on-the-go’ access to target consumers, for communication of exclusive and short term offers.

Other centres in the process of developing apps include Capital Shopping Centres’ Lakeside, MetroCentre and The Harlequin in Watford and The Bentall Centre in Kingston.

Connect IB recently developed an app for Westfield London, with an aim to develop a platform that was in-keeping with the brand, creating a standard both for Westfield and the industry as a whole.

The project took just eight weeks to complete from the initial planning stages to the launch just before Christmas.

Hull explains: “There was a lot of focus on getting it right. You have to decide what it is you’re trying to deliver and work on the technology, usability and design.

“The app is bespoke and designed to capture the essences of the Westfield London experience. It was hard work but we brought the concept alive and it’s been a strong success.”

Features include location and mapping – where users can view different routes and see stage by stage how to get to a certain part of the centre - live cinema times, latest offers and events and voice recording so you can note where you’ve parked your car.

IPG Systems is currently working with four shopping centres to launch apps this year.

“There are a huge amount of benefits,” says managing director Dan Kendall. “More and more people are spending time on their mobiles rather than accessing websites from computers so it’s easier to digest and people are spending more time doing internet shopping now so anything shopping centres can do to communicate with their customers and get them coming back is beneficial.

“The idea is to appeal to a wider catchment and drive footfall and spend by making the most of people’s visits.”

You can also develop apps which link-in with platforms like Facebook Places and foursquare and with parking systems so users can see how many available parking spaces there are.

But Kendall has a warning. “A lot of people put apps in the same category as websites but that’s not accurate,” he says. “A website displays on any browser but an app is a software program running on a computer system – in this case mobile phones. Often clients don’t have the budget to make an app compatible with all the different handsets so you might have to pick the most popular.”

The two most popular platforms are Apple for iPhone and Google which runs Android on HTC and Samsung phones.