Bill Taubman

LAS VEGAS Technology is changing everything. Retailers just need to remember that creativity, not data, wins.

That was the word from Taubman Centers Inc. chief operating officer Bill Taubman, who chatted on the RECon floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center Monday as part of the ICSC Live speaker series taking place throughout Monday and Tuesday at the annual conference. The conference is expected to draw more than 36,000 retail real estate executives.

Technology was a key theme of many of the day’s talks, with discussions that have gone far beyond saying everything is changing to what developers and retailers are doing to leverage data, sensors, applications and the host of other digital enhancements to remain relevant to consumers.

Taubman has been using beacons in some malls, while creating apps at other properties.

The real estate owner is working with technology company Spring on a loyalty program being tested at the Mall at Green Hills in Nashville that creates incentives based on a customer’s shopping habits and stores those rewards online, eliminating the need to show receipts or produce a loyalty card. Taubman said the program is expected to be rolled out to at least two others malls soon.

“For the first time, the mall owner has a direct connection with the customer because remember in the past our connection has always been indirect,” Taubman said. “It’s been you’re going into the store. You take out your credit card. You pay in store and the relationship is between you and the store. Now we’re going to know who you are. We’re going to know how much you spend and in a mall like Short Hills [in New Jersey], where we know that the Neiman Marcus store does a huge amount of business…there are probably 20 customers a year who spend over half a million dollars each. We’re going to know who you are and if they’re spending that much at Neiman Marcus they’re probably spending that much in the balance of the mall.”

At other Taubman centers, such as the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, it’s about using technology to simplify the obvious. The center is in the midst of a $500 million makeover that includes red and green indicator lights in the parking structures to assist shoppers with finding spaces. Each space will also be equipped with a camera that reads vehicle license plates so that if a shopper forgets where they parked, Beverly Center officials will be able to locate vehicles based on their plates.

“If you forget your license plate, then we have another problem, but at any rate we can still do it the old-fashioned way,” Taubman said. “We can have a security guy take you around. But we’re trying to use technology…to remove the pain points to make it as easy as possible for the customer.”

Art, though not necessarily part of the tech discussion, will also play an integral role during the center’s construction with temporary installations from Los Angeles artists hanging on the barricades and other parts boarded up by the construction. And that’s at the heart of what the “fundamental brand promise” is to shoppers from malls and retailers. It doesn’t always have to be about the technological enhancements, Taubman emphasized.

“One of the things you see happening is through the use of technology and all the information we have from so many sources [it’s] having the effect of dulling down the individual reality and the creativity of the merchandise mix by store,” Taubman said. “Nobody told Yves Saint Laurent in the Sixties he needed to create the Smoking jacket. Nobody had ever created a tuxedo for women and he did it and it revolutionized women’s fashion so you still need creativity and spark. It’s still about the editor. It’s still about the person who is sitting there and editing the looks.”

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