By Dorn Townsend
The arrival of vaccines is bringing light to the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, but retailers on Main Streets and within malls rightly are wondering, what’s next? Are permanent changes coming in how and where people shop? How can I recover lost market share? Where am I likely to reach my market’s demographics?
Relief won’t come from creating flashy temporary attractions or by reverting to old practices and pretending last year never happened. Part of what will make a difference for enterprises is meaningful agile data, the kind provided by Citiscope, a software startup that combines urban science with computer science to provide a thorough understanding of the behaviours of Canadian shoppers.
Citiscope is a software platform that selectively mines publicly available, dynamic geo-social data. It pulls together a wide range of relevant intelligence such as trip reviews, mobility data, even analyzing the location and timing of emoticons. The deliverable is nearly real-time visualization tools that allow retailers to gain insights about customers, malls and neighbourhoods where businesses and institutions operate. Citiscope’s product thus goes well beyond the kind of statistics from censuses or one-dimensional counts of foot traffic that retailers have become accustomed to.
The company’s material is mapped to help merchants and city-builders probe what residents and visitors value in particular communities. In so doing, the program sheds light on evolving preferences and behaviors of shoppers, social activities that act as magnets for locals and visitors, and understandings that can help stores, groups, organizations, and neighborhoods thrive. By observing how, where and when different demographics go you can understand what they want.
The software – which can be accessed from a desktop, iPad, or smart phone – can help retailers understand the following points:
- Understand visitation patterns
- Understand the activities drawing people to a mall, shop or BIA
- Understand where shoppers are coming from, and how they are arriving
- Understand the influence of placemaking events
- Understand aspects of the local character that are causing customers to keep returning
- What is missing from a mall, BIA or retail area that is driving retention in other areas
- How can you turn your mall, BIA or retail area into more of a destination?
- How can your BIA, mall or retail area change to reflect the unseen but permanent COVID-induced changes to your neighbourhood?
By examining data from during the Pandemic some findings include:
Cities lately have been turned inside-out with more people working remotely, a trend likely to stay. Retail high streets and Business Improvement Areas that focus on creating opportunities to see and be seen are faring better.
There’s a palpable hunger for more public spaces. After being locked down for so long, Canadians are on record as wanting more settings where they can safely see and be seen.
Whereas before “experience destinations” were regarded as big glitzy downtowns, we can see how local placemaking efforts like outdoor restaurants, wide, safe bike lanes, and outdoor exhibits for art and for cinema can turn even overlooked BIAs into the kinds of sites where residents and visitors come to spend time and rejuvenate.
Citiscope was founded by Dorn Townsend, a Toronto native whose interest in learning how people engage with cities began after university when he spent a year as a bike messenger in Toronto and Vancouver. He spent years working on urban issues around the world with the UN while he was also contributing to media like The Economist, Foreign Affairs, and The New York Times. The software’s back-end was built by a team of PhDs in math and telecommunications engineering. The platform is uniquely built to take and seamlessly integrate information from different sources including in-house data, Internet of Things, smart-city sensors, and social media.