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It's a sign of the times.
Against a backdrop of falling foot traffic and shuttered department stores, mall owners are looking for ways to more accurately track shoppers at their properties. The information allows landlords to make more informed decisions about how to redevelop and pick tenants.
Jones Lang LaSalle, a services firm that specializes in real estate and investment management, will begin using a new tool called Pinpoint to monitor shoppers within a "geofence" at malls. Think of it as a virtual lasso that will look at where individuals wander, and how long they stay there, within a realm of space.
The tool was created in partnership with Alexander Babbage, an Atlanta-based location insights and analytics firm.
For the longest time, the retail industry has relied on data that only define a "theoretical shopper," Alexander Baggage CEO Alan McKeon told CNBC. Now, more companies will be able to learn about their "actual shoppers," using JLL's tracking. This will allow retailers to target consumers they haven't been reaching, and further tap into those who frequently visit their stores.
While geotracking isn't a new idea, JLL's adoption of the tool marks a major step for malls, and their other retail clients, in this direction and acceptance of new technology, McKeon said.
When a location-aware device, such as a smartphone, enters a geofence, data can then be pulled from that user, or outbound communication can be initiated.
Currently, many retail landlords rely on their own foot traffic counters and other generic trade area metrics to learn about consumer behavior. But with some major mall redevelopments underway heading into 2018, that basic insight won't suffice.
"We can't rely on archaic methods to remain competitive in the digital age," Greg Maloney, CEO and president of JLL's retail business, said in a statement.
"The key to geofencing is to garner the most accurate and statistically sound data and then translate it into actionable insights," he added. "We've run our test pilot program on several centers and each time it has blown away the demographics found in radius and mileage rings."
Overall, geofences are expected to play a much bigger role within the industry.
The "smart-targeting" technology is expected to make up a roughly $40 billion industry by 2019, according to a study by Markets and Markets. That's an increase of five times, from about $8 billion, since 2014.
Industry experts say knowing a basic shopper profile, or demographics, isn't enough today.
JLL's Pinpoint will feed landlords and retailers information about where shoppers come from, what variety of stores they visit, and how long they shop there, all in real-time.
This data can be used in a number of ways. Retailers could ping customers with special offers when they enter a certain area of a mall or shopping center, for example.
Mall owners are now looking to do more of the same, but the information gathered will allow them to make decisions such as whether more dining options are needed. It also can help them pick tenants and judge if some leases are worth extending.
"Consumers behave very differently today than they did even three years ago," Maloney added.
The goal with Pinpoint is to help retail landlords drive sales back to their properties, by allowing them to gather as much information as possible about those new consumers.