Cadillac Fairview is innovating with a new business entity called ‘Ravel by CF’ that will disrupt the shopping centre landscape in Canada. Operating as something of an ‘in-house tech company’, Ravel utilizes digital platforms with connected technologies and artificial intelligence to improve the overall consumer experience in the landlord’s centres, while at the same time removing ‘friction points’ that are common in busy shopping malls nationwide. Cadillac Fairview will continue to perfect Ravel as it looks to the future of shopping centres globally, and competing landlords will no doubt be taking notice.
The Ravel by CF initiative comes at a challenging time for shopping centre landlords in Canada, as retailers close stores and international brands continue to enter the already crowded market. The word ‘Ravel’ is a derivative of the word ‘unravel’ — some are saying that the industry is ‘unraveling’ and Cadillac Fairview is looking to ‘bring it back together’ with Ravel’s goal to create positive consumer experiences not currently available at other shopping centre properties.
Cadillac Fairview is an anchor investor in the new $150-million fund from Framework Venture Partners, which is a Canada-focused technology venture capital firm. About $50-million is from the Business Development Bank of Canada and another $50-million is from Cadillac Fairview, RBC and British Columbia’s BC Tech Fund.
Cadillac Fairview Executive Vice President Jose Ribau is leading the Ravel business entity which is described as being “a highly integrated operating model that both disrupts and gives support to the industry from within”. Ravel’s data-driven model is agile with the capability to capitalize on market trends, while at the same time being able to respond quickly to evolving needs of consumers, retailers and office clients.
“Ravel by CF will create an engagement platform to enhance the businesses of brands and retailers while providing a more seamless, enjoyable experience for our consumers. Our integrated model gives us a strategic advantage in the market, allowing us to be more nimble and anticipate the needs of our consumers, our retailers and the office employees in our properties,” he said.
Cadillac Fairview’s aim is to ultimately improve the retail sales conversion for its retailers. Mr. Ribau explained how the landlord has a role in helping physical stores be profitable, and Ravel is able to do that by educating consumers about retailers and products available, while at the same time removing friction points that might otherwise lead to negative consumer experiences. As a result, Cadillac Fairview malls may become preferable to those of competitors.
At a time when many consumers are choosing to shop online for convenience, Ravel seeks to bridge the gap between physical and online retail — studies show that physical retail is able to drive sales to online brands, with digital-only brands such as Frank And Oak, Indochino and Warby Parker opening physical stores with considerable success.
Ravel’s enhanced in-mall experiences include tailored services and offerings, product and retailer suggestions, better way finding in shopping centres, improvements to access such as parking and transportation, food delivery, easier payments, and anything else that might otherwise be a ‘friction point’ that could use improvement. Apps will be part of the initiative, be it third-party or those developed by Ravel as learning progresses.
One way Ravel will look to enhance the shopping experience at Cadillac Fairview malls is through product and store suggestions. For example, a shopper may be looking to buy a pair of black shoes, and suggestions of different retailers can be provided. Prior to speaking with a sales associate in any specific store, some will utilize information provided to them on their mobile device to help focus their search. Ravel also helps narrow down choices that might otherwise be overwhelming.
Montreal-based footwear retailer Aldo is an early partner in the Ravel initiative, according to David Bensadoun, CEO of Aldo. “Our transformation to a true omni-channel retailer includes physical stores as incredible assets that drive brand equity, customer experience and data collection. We are excited to be an early partner to help shape the shopping experience of the future together with Ravel by CF,” he said.
Cadillac Fairview recently partnered with transportation company Lyft to bring customers to its malls, and a pilot at CF Toronto Eaton Centre was a success. If a customer wants to visit a particular store, for example, an app can determine which drop-off entrance is the most convenient. Other similar innovations are expected as Ravel continues to innovate and react to customer needs by solving friction points.
Simple and convenient payment methods are also goals of the Ravel initiative. This month for the Lunar New Year celebrations, for example, AliPay users gain access to the payment company’s best exchange rate which is typically offered only to ‘Platinum Members’ which otherwise represent about 18% of all AliPay customers. Mr. Ribau said that there will be other payment-related innovations as Ravel continues to grow and learn.
Parking is another challenge that Ravel is looking to solve. Over the 2018 Christmas season, Cadillac Fairview tested out reserved parking at Toronto’s CF Sherway Gardens. Customers were receptive to having guaranteed parking spaces at the mall at a time when parking lots are often full, and about 20% of users ended up being repeat visitors that may have otherwise gone to other centres to do their holiday shopping. Mr. Ribau explained how the parking experience, which is often a friction point in malls, can become a positive experience that may even include a free Starbucks coffee.
For office workers at Cadillac Fairview properties such as CF Toronto Eaton Centre, Ravel aims to make the ‘lunch experience’ more efficient in several ways. Rather than have to wait in line to get food in the mall, app users can order food that can be delivered to the office, or alternatively picked-up on site with a goal of time savings. There will be runners throughout some properties to deliver orders in an efficient manner as well.
Cadillac Fairview CEO John Sullivan said, “At Cadillac Fairview, we have an ongoing drive to evolve the role of spaces to create community through human connection, inspiration and productivity. We want to lead the industry with innovative experiences, services and products towards a shared and connected digital future.” He went on to say, “Ravel by CF is a part of our strategic plan, and it is a natural extension of other investments we have made to improve our business through innovation.”
— Cadillac Fairview (@CadFairview) February 5, 2019
— Cadillac Fairview (@CadFairview) February 6, 2019
Cadillac Fairview is already a very strong landlord in Canada. Of the top 10 most productive shopping centres in Canada as ranked by annual sales per square foot, five centres are managed by Cadillac Fairview. That’s according to Retail Council of Canada’s 2018 Canadian Shopping Centre Study which lists and analyses the country’s top 30 centres (13 of which are Cadillac Fairview properties).
Other landlords with top properties in Canada include Oxford Properties (with Yorkdale being the most productive mall in Canada), Ivanhoé Cambridge, QuadReal, and a handful of other smaller management companies. It remains to be seen what innovations these landlords might bring to the table following Cadillac Fairview’s tech-focused initiative. Oxford Properties continues to innovate with technology as well as by adding more food and beverage offerings to its malls — that includes food halls as well as full-service restaurants. Ivanhoé Cambridge and QuadReal are also upgrading their properties by brining in food halls and food markets while also continuing to upgrade and redevelop some properties . We’ll be watching Canada’s shopping centre landlords as they react to Ravel by CF — competition is fierce and over the past five years Canada’s malls have seen billions in investments, more than at any time in our history.