Women of Digital Transformation in Real Estate

Insights from industry experts


We partnered with Real Estate Women (RE:WOMEN) to recruit panelists for a conversation for their members to discuss digital transformation, emerging digital innovations, and experiences as a woman in the real estate industry. Bernardine Wu, CEO at FitForCommerce, spoke alongside Emma Hindes, VP of Shopping Center Management at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) and Kathryn Malloch, Head of Customer Experience at Hammerson. Below is a quick recap of the conversation!

Key Quotes & Notes

1. Introductions & Career Progress

  • Q – Tell us more about yourself, your career so far, and any dreams for the future.
    • “[I came] from running one large property to learning to operate a portfolio of centers. I also had to learn to operate in a new culture – we may speak the same language, but we speak it very differently. URW’s mission is to “Reinvent being together”. We want to bring experiences and innovation to our properties and centers. We are working on future lifestyle developments where we’re creating new, vibrant communities through retail, offices, residential, entertainment & leisure, and community spaces. My ambition is to continue to work successfully with URW to deliver on the vision and the mission. I want to get up everyday and know that I’ve added value.” – Emma Hindes, URW
    • “One of the benefits of being in real estate is that the number of stakeholders and who your customer is really varies. Tenants, consumers, and investors [are all our customers]. We have to think about how to innovate and bring value to all of the different stakeholders. I’m passionate about the business transformation side of what I do. This is the kind of moment where we’re seizing on the opportunity to make some pretty big changes and that’s incredibly exciting.” – Kathryn Malloch, Hammerson
    • My career has not been linear. Since college, I moved into smaller and smaller companies until I finally started my own company. I really like service organizations that can find what can really help other companies. That’s how we define FitForCommerce – as “The Help”. We’re in the business of helping people grow through accelerating digital. Now, everything has some element of digital.” – Bernardine Wu, FitForCommerce

2. The Changing Real Estate Market

  • Q – What is your take on the market in terms of overall retail experience – where we shop, eat, live, work, play, and travel?
    • “We have a significant presence online and offline. We all know that online penetration is increasing, however, statistics speak for themselves. Physical assets are still incredibly important to our communities and beyond. We’re social beings. We want to get out and enjoy ourselves in a physical space. For us, there’s no choice between physical and digital – we aim to deliver an experience that is both online and offline. The consumer wants to see something different today and that is an experience. The future of the shopping center goes beyond retail. It’s about creating the vibrant community that brings the retail component but also office spaces, homes, lifestyle, entertainment and dining, and community spaces altogether in one location with us being able to control and curate that experience.” – Emma Hindes, URW
  • Q – What do you think has changed in terms of customer experience over the past 6 months?
    • “It’s been a period of uncertainty for a lot of people. A big part of our focus has been recognizing that and focusing on the ways we can reassure shoppers that are venues are safe and welcoming environments. You can’t ignore that there is a continued appetite for physical experiences. More than ever, people have been living in a digital bubble and there’s a desperate want and need to get back to physical connections. We are looking to digital for new solutions to help reassure shoppers and to make experiences as safe as possible. Although a lot has changed, experience is still at the heart of what we do.” – Kathryn Malloch, Hammerson
  • Q – From a consulting perspective, what has changed in terms of customer experience trends? What’s leading to new digital adoptions?
    • “1 – The customer is in charge. She wants to shop anytime, anywhere, anyhow, anyway. But she doesn’t have time. We need it to be convenient but also inspiring and fun. Retail is not just where we shop – it’s where we live, work, eat, and find entertainment and inspiration. 2 – Digital & Omnichannel has to be front and center. Create an experience that supports her in all of the different touchpoints, devices, and channels 3 – Placemaking is a methodology. 4 – Innovation is its own sort of work stream. In the past 6 months, things that were two- or three-year roadmap items all of a sudden had to be done in [a few] weeks.” – Bernardine Wu, FitForCommerce

3. Digital Innovations

  • Q – Can you tell us about some initiatives that Hammerson is undertaking in terms of improving customer experience through innovation, and a challenge you had to overcome when implementing initiatives?
    • “We don’t take a channel-first approach. We’re not thinking about the ‘right’ digital experience. We’re thinking about the customer first and then we’re thinking about how channels support those initiatives. We also use a minimal viable product approach to new innovation. That’s been so important in terms of being able to deliver things at pace. Testing solutions before making significant investments has taken a lot of the risk out of all of this.” – Kathryn Malloch, Hammerson
  • Q – As one of the largest retail landlords worldwide, which digital innovations have been fundamental for URW to deal with the pandemic globally?
    • “We’ve had to pivot quickly and adapt on a day-to-day basis. Appointment booking technology has gone into all of our centers and curbside pickup has also been important – particularly through the lockdown period. We had to completely redirect our focus to deliver on the services of safety and convenience for retailers and for our customers. We’ve also refocused our concierge team for a “Westfield on the Go” service. They go out collecting parcels or retailers bring them to the parcel point and the concierge team brings the items to the customer in their car. It’s all non-touch for the customer.” – Emma Hindes, URW
  • Q – What will be the next stage for brick & mortar retailers in terms of digital innovation? What can they do to improve customer experience and attract more people?
    • The exercise of customer journey mapping is incredibly important and helpful. Maybe there are experiences malls and retailers can collaborate on. You can imagine this customer journey where there is a merging of the physical and digital. There isn’t one customer journey, there are many. It’s worth taking the time to map them out because then you can really understand and envision great customer experiences for the future.” – Bernardine Wu, FitForCommerce

4. Pieces of Advice – Navigating the Real Estate Industry as a Woman

  • Q – How’s the industry been for you as woman? How do you think the industry can improve to be more fair.
    • Have confidence & self-belief. Make strategic and bold decisions. Put yourself in a position of discomfort and take risks. Build internal and external networks.” – Emma Hindes, URW
    • Find a strong female role model. Having and voicing an opinion is way more important than getting it right. Give people the space to have a voice.” – Kathryn Malloch, Hammerson
    • “We all have implicit bias and we should be checking ourselves. Everybody has to be their own PR agent. Don’t ask, don’t get. Ask for that raise, role, responsibility, or recognition.” – Bernardine Wu, FitForCommerce

To learn about how FitForCommerce can help retailers and mall operators with digital transformation, contact us.

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