Big Data Makes Inroads Into Singapore Retail Sector

SINGAPORE (Nikkei Markets) -- Data-based tools for the retail sector are gaining appeal as they make greater use of devices such as smartphones and cameras to track consumer behavior, giving store and mall owners more, and better, information as they face the e-commerce onslaught.

Technological advances have made data collection a lot easier in recent years, said Jeremy Sim, a senior director at Qlik APAC, which provides visualization tools that help companies organize data sets so that they can be easily interpreted.

In Hong Kong for example, a Qlik client uses facial recognition technology to gauge the mood of people walking past the store as well as those who actually enter the premises so as to identify the type of customer who is most likely to make a purchase.

When such data is used in combination with information the retailer already has, it can lift efficiency and sales, he said.

While analytics tools are generally associated with e-commerce companies, Sim said they are already widely used by brick-and-mortar retailers in countries like Japan and South Korea and are gaining popularity in places such as China and Singapore.

The explosion in smartphones has boosted both the quantity and quality of data, say players.

Real estate services firm CBRE, for instance, has a retail analytics tool called Calibrate that uses the global positioning system in mobile phones to track footfall at various times of the day as well as where the customer came from and whether he or she is a repeat visitor.

CBRE said data collected from mobile phones is combined with other data sources to generate information such as a mall's catchment area and when customer traffic is highest.

The tool doesn't identify individual consumers so it doesn't breach privacy and adheres to data-related regulations in each country, said Arpan Barua, CBRE's senior director for consulting in Asia.

In one case study, Calibrate was able to break down visitors to "Habitat by Honestbee," an experimental supermarket and food court in an industrial area in the west of Singapore.

While the facility managed to draw people from all over the island, the data also showed repeat visitors accounted for just 14% of the total and that they typically made no more than a monthly visit. This indicated that business could decline once the novelty factor wore off.

CBRE said that landlords and retailers in Singapore have stepped up the use of data analytics over the past two years, using tactics such as providing free WiFi that requires registration, creating loyalty programs and installing movement trackers within their premises.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that more are also turning to external sources, including solution providers, to get a more holistic picture of their performance against the competition, Barua said.

CBRE said it uses Calibrate to help mall owners benchmark the performance of their assets against various properties. In the case of retailers, CBRE uses the information to advise on expanding or closing stores, as well as optimizing them to improve business.

At City Square Mall, which is owned by Singapore property giant City Developments, managers use a footfall-tracking system to analyze data such as the number of visitors on a particular level or at specific time slots or entrances. "This is useful to plan and curate events and activities for shoppers as well as for the placement of tenants," said a spokesman for the company.

DataSpark, a unit of Singapore Telecommunications, combines mobile phone and other location data with geospatial algorithmic models and software to evaluate factors such as the accessibility and attractiveness of shopping malls or other attractions.

The company, which operates in five countries, claims it collects and processes over 1 billion signals from 4 million devices each day.

Recently, it analyzed non-travel-related visits by locals to Jewel Changi Airport, a huge entertainment and retail complex connected to three passenger terminals. The data gleaned from the exercise included a breakdown of visitors by country, the time spent, and the preferred mode of transport to and from the retail complex.

Despite the data deluge, much of the information can be wasted if it is not properly integrated, said Qlik's Sim.

"Retailers already have a lot of information about the customer. You just need the technology to surface it," he said.

Qlik's retail case studies include Lush, the U.K. company which is best known for its handmade cosmetics, and Japanese convenience store operator Ministop.

--Kevin Lim