UNIBAIL-Rodamco-Westfield is pushing ahead with plans to integrate innovation within its shopping centres through three key drivers: accelerating digital ideas, developing global retail partnerships and developing its Better Places policy, according to Julie Villet, director of URWLab and CSR at the real estate giant.
Villet said that the wide-ranging Better Places 2030 project encompasses both the company’s desire to leverage innovation within its centres, and recognition of the growing importance of sustainability among its customer base.
To this end, some of its key initiatives have focused on consumer actions in terms of its stated objective to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% compared with 2015. “For example, we are working with Uber in our US shopping centres to introduce smart pick-up points, customer lounges and a variety of other projects,” Villet said, emphasising the importance of such moves. “In Europe, the company has joined the Mobility Club, an organisation dedicated to improving environmentally-friendly transport options, such as car-sharing schemes.”
The original innovation arm of Unibail-Rodamco was established as URLab in 2012 before widening its brief and ambitions in 2015 to become URWLink. Villet said that while the initial emphasis was on collaborating with startups — and the company has worked on accelerator programmes with around 20 startups to date — the platform has now been opened up.
“We learnt a lot, and built on this to enrich our approach over time, to bring together the best innovations,” she said. “Today we have a more mixed approach that builds on partnerships and collaboration with diverse players of all sizes: young ‘rising star’ startups, but also more mature, established groups.”
Of particular importance is its global retail partnership, which aims to help retailers across its international portfolio as they seek more flexibility in how they operate and use their stores. The company is also encouraging online retailers, which are increasingly looking for physical space, to make their home at one of its malls.
“In the US we are the venue for stores from Warby Parker, Peleton and Amazon Books, for example,” she said. “These are not just being used for marketing because physical stores improve web traffic and online sales in the area in which a store is located. Obviously for us the importance is that we have great venues in the wealthiest catchments, which appeals to these digital natives who want to get the maximum brand benefit but are not necessarily looking to open stores everywhere.”