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Retail Life and Emotions, Under the Citiscope

By Dorn Townsend

For years, retailers, mall owners, and business improvement areas have been turning to the same types of data from the same sources to make the same types of sales predictions. But 2021 turned the life of retailers and mall owners upside down and inside out. If ever there was a time to look for new awareness, it’s now.

The usual way of understanding a place has become as formulaic as ordering a pizza. Stats Can census data are your base. Mobility data are the sauce. Daytime population estimates are the cheese. From data providers, you can pay a lot more for extra toppings like insights from surveys. But you can never be sure how fresh those insights are, how well sourced, or whether they are organic or extrapolated from a can.

The problem is that grasping the health, interconnectedness, and poetry of city life has zero in common with making a pizza. After all, what does census data from before COVID times tell us about life today? What do surveys on consumption from 2020 tell us about how, where, why, who, and when people currently are shopping and spending time? How do such stale tools assist Main Street Davids compete with Goliath’s like Amazon?

If we are going to help our great Canadian public spaces such as malls and main streets recover, we have to be frank that analytics we’ve been ordering – while comprehensive and intermittently easy to apply – don’t tell us a great deal about inflection moments like these when cities and consumer behaviours are being reshuffled.

Happily, big advances in data innovation and digital technology are revealing new evidence-based means to make investment decisions based on what matters to people. If we look at hard data from across Canada and Europe, the most successful places turn out to be those which are safe, engaging, and have a magnetic diversity of uses and attractions.

Using geo-social data, Citiscope measures how diverse, exciting, safe, and engaging spaces actually are. We use machine learning to create esoteric tools that capture what people actually like about the places that they visit.

In essence, we’ve turned billions of social media posts about settings and places into an analytic tool that can help you improve visitor experiences and so promote communities that are more sustainable and liveable.

We identify the quantitative and qualitative strengths of your address by focusing on what people love about them.  With that deep dive into community lifestyles, you’re able to compare property dynamics of malls or main streets across the same city or region.

For instance, visitors to a neighbourhood often have a hard time experiencing the optimal ambience just by checking a map or using a trip rating site. Citiscope can help visitors improve their shopping experiences by measuring the intensity of social activities that happen in a mall or on a main street. We also score streets based on certain old-timey geo-spatial points of interest data like footfall to shops with newer insights derived from, say, robustness of digital footprints of businesses, numbers of events, accesses to public space, even quality of air.

We see shops, main streets, and malls as existing within a super-local ecosystem that integrates destinations where the attractions of all boost or rub off on each other.

We can also help you create a baseline for retail strategizing so that you can view impacts over time. That can make positive differences as our long COVID winter finally begins turning into something more hopeful, roaring, and exciting.

*Retail Insider partnered with Citiscope for this article.

Dorn Townsend

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. 

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