[Interview] Monika Pyszkowska, ECE: we are going to launch a Digital Mall project in Poland

One of the first countries where we will want to launch the Digital Mall project is Poland, where, apart from Germany, we have the largest number of shopping malls - announced Monika Pyszkowska, Director of Center Management Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia in ECE Projektmanagement during the autumn edition of SCF 2020 CEE.

Until now, shopping malls have in a way been excluded from the ecosystem of omnichannel sales. It was more of a retailer domain. However, at ECE Projektmanagement you decided to change this and implemented the Digital Mall project. Where did you get this decision from?

The implementation of the omnichannel strategy in shopping malls poses greater challenges than a single retail chain. We have a large number of tenants in our facilities, different internet sales systems, so in this case, good cooperation between the tenant and the manager is crucial. We are aware that trade is changing and e-commerce is becoming increasingly important. We have to be ready for these changes, so we have decided to create a platform combining online and offline trade. This is how Digital Mall was created. Creating this project we had no idea that after a dozen or so months the retail world will be affected by a real revolution connected with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. 

What's Digital Mall?

Together with the tenants, we have created a platform where customers can search for the products they are interested in, book them and then pick them up at the store. The offer is available both on the website of the centre and in the mobile application.

But it's not over. We want to develop our service and are currently carrying out a pilot implementation at the Alstertal Einkaufszentrum in Hamburg, where customers have the opportunity to pick up their ordered products at a specially prepared point and even order home delivery. In this case, we are working with Hermes, so that the purchases can reach customers within 24 hours. 

From the customers' point of view, what are the biggest advantages of this solution?

Many people like to plan their purchases in advance, check availability of products in shops. Our platform gives this possibility and additionally you can enter a specific password in the search engine, e.g. "red dress", and the system will search and show all such products available in our tenants' offer. This means good preparation for online shopping, and consequently faster and more efficient shopping in the mall. 

How fast is the Digital Mall project developing and at what stage are you now?

In the beginning we implemented this project in 4 shopping centres in Germany. Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, we accelerated strongly and now the project is already operating in 51 facilities. By the end of 2021 we plan to implement it in all ECE shopping centres in Germany. So there are as many as 90 facilities. 

It is worth noting that about 60 percent of the German population lives about 30 minutes away from our centres, which allows us to build a serious and efficient logistics network with a huge impact. 

It must be made clear that this is a complex project and a major logistical challenge. Especially since we have ambitious plans and want the offer to be available on other internet platforms as well. In Germany Otto is to be our partner, we also plan to cooperate with Google.

How many tenants are currently working with you on this project?

We currently work with 70 tenants. There is no denying that the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has significantly increased our partners' interest in this project. In general, the tenants are positively inclined towards the Digital Mall project, because like any additional, innovative service, it increases the traffic and interest of customers in a given shopping centre and the turnover of individual stores.  

You said that by the end of 2021 the system is to cover all 90 shopping centres in Germany. Do you later plan to develop this project in other countries where you are present?

Undoubtedly the development of Digital Mall abroad will be more difficult. This includes issues related to the adaptation of the whole system to a given market, e.g. in terms of language. However, I can say that one of the first countries where we will want to launch this project is Poland where, apart from Germany, we have the largest number of shopping centres.

Of course, among our tenants on the German market there are also Polish companies that already know the advantages of participating in the Digital Mall project, so we hope that some of the tenants will not have to be convinced to cooperate for long. 

Finally, what do you think the trade of the future will look like?

The motto that has been guiding me lately is the famous sentence by Heraclitus of Ephesus, who preached that "the only constant thing in life is change." In my opinion, it perfectly reflects what's happening in the mall and retail sector today. Of course, shopping malls will continue to function, but its formula will change.

Interviewer: Łukasz Izakowski