“Using Data to Thrive in a Changing Retail Scape” with Ivan Loh | Episode 2

Ivan Loh, Head of Customer Success and Advisory, BI Solutions APAC from JLL Technologies, speaks on the importance of utilising data to drive change and keep up in the dynamic retail industry. In this episode of The Future Of Retail Asia Podcast, Jun, Imran, and Ivan delve into the complexities that surround the industry and discuss how data can be used meaningfully to mitigate these challenges.


The Future of Retail Asia, is now streaming on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. View the video and full transcript below. Enjoy!



Episode 2: “Using Data to Thrive in a Changing Retail Scape” with Ivan Loh


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IMRAN: Hello and welcome to the second episode of The Future of Retail Asia, where we are mapping out how the retail landscape will look like in the coming years. My name is Imran.


JUN: Hi I’m Jun. As you can see right, with the covid restrictions back into play in Singapore. So actually we are currently talking to our next guest over Zoom.


IMRAN: None other than Mr Ivan Loh! Currently the Head of Customer Success and Advisory, BI Solutions APAC from JLL Technologies.


JUN: Hi Ivan, I think it is quite sad to not have you with us in the studio today, but hope you will enjoy it. Maybe we can start by introducing yourself.


IVAN: Thanks for having me this afternoon. So my name is Ivan Loh, I am from JLL technologies. Previously I was co head of data analytics for ARAS management. And at the same time the director of APM Innovate, where I will look after all the technology and data science projects in the retail mall, specifically Suntec City in singapore.


JUN: Yeah, so I think. Actually we have worked together before with Ivan. That’s how we got to know each other. And I am so impressed every time I meet you. He always surprises me. And from my understanding, last year you actually completed an advanced diploma in data analytics and machine learning right?


IVAN: Right.


JUN: I think very curious. What gave you the drive to get out of the way to obtain more knowledge in this area. And what is so important for a person who works in the real estate industry to join this kind of program.


IVAN: Right I think what you were trying to say was what motivated a person of my age to take on such ah, I’m just kidding. Yeah I think data is very important and it will increasingly be important in any industry. Not just retail and real estate, cause we need to understand our business better and the only way to do that is we know how to make use of this great resource that everybody has but don’t really know how to leverage on. Which is data.


IMRAN: So Ivan, with this knowledge that you have obtained and your current experience with JLL Technologies, which is one of the largest real estate technology providers in the world. And before this you were with APM Innovate and before that where you were with Bugis Street where you essentially digitalised 900 merchants. If I am correct. What did you notice in this journey of yours that mall management, and even retailers, should be looking at in terms of data that would be benefiting their business.


IVAN: Yeah, certainly. I think that is a very good question, there is a very long answer for that. In view of time, just a very high level response to that question is that the retail industry has shifted and will continue to shift as we go across time. And when I just started my career, in the retail industry, or specifically in the retail real estate industry, we started seeing changes in retail very quickly. Previously was brick and mortar, and then you have e-commerce that came about. It moved on again to omni-channels retail, to a point where people didn't want to hear omni-channels anymore. And itt just went on to something else. Besides the retail scene itself, you have all these supporting industries like payments that followed retail, and continue to define how we as consumers shopped and buy stuff that we need or want. It’s an interesting journey and it will continue to change and for us in the industry we would need to stay abreast with all these changes and be open to new things.


IMRAN: Interesting, but just curious, because we mentioned that data is very important for retail. Is this data still able to support retail for malls in this pandemic? If yes, what is the dataset that can actually help the landlords or retailers to actually pass these restrictions or this phase 2 heightened alert.


IVAN: Data is increasingly important now, more than ever. Because we have so many things to worry about. It is not just business, but also how do we get through this pandemic with things like safe distancing, regulations, like how many people can be in your shop in a given time. All these different restrictions come into play and I think increasingly having a good grasp of what your data is telling you would allow you to plan your business better and tide through this difficult times. For example, staffing. In retail, manpower is always challenging. With what we have right now in the pandemic, how many staff you have in your retail shop is also a very important question to answer. And what time of day, what day of week, how many do I need. Things like that will require data, and how do we get this data, we also have IOT devices deployed in a retail space to tell us the kind of traffic we have in the store, or in the mall in any given time. We can use that data to answer those questions.


IMRAN: So you talked about data being captured by various devices, or IOT from the retailers side, from the mall management sides. There seems to be a lot of stakeholders, the reality is the case in the retail real estate. We are talking about landlords, we are talking about the retailers. But even within the mall management, we also have different departments. What is the robust to think about sharing data internally, and with different stakeholders. How do we make sense of what data is relevant to who, and to look at it from an aggregate level.


IVAN: As you mentioned Imran, this whole industry has so many layers. There are so many stakeholders involved in running a retail business. On one level you have the consumer, and you have the retail stores, and then you have the property managers, and the landlords. There are so many people involved in this entire game. Having aggregated data is also a challenge, because you are talking about in this industry, different companies working together. I would say that on each level, the data has to be aggregated at that level, and that is probably as best as you can get. Data is so sensitive, and with things like PDPA as well, sharing that data gets a little bit more challenging. And how do we obtain that data, there is also a lot of governance and risks with dealing in things like data.


JUN: Any interesting insights that you see today, in Singapore or APAC. Regarding to this pandemic, any datasets or data insights you can share with us.


IVAN: I think that this is a very interesting question, and a very tough one to answer. Because in this pandemic, things are so volatile. Just take for example, in Singapore, we have different phases that we have to deal with. We have phase 2, phase 2 heightened alert, phase 3 and I don’t know what’s next. So with all this different restrictions, there is not enough data to collect during these short spurts. For data analytics, you need probably a larger amount of data in order for you to do some kind of analysis. It’s hard to answer that question from a retail standpoint. Hopefully we will get more insights when we get through this period.


IMRAN: You alluded to something, which is that there is difficulty in obtaining retail data. I think this is also validated by our own experiences when we do talk to various stakeholders in the industry. I think first of all, what was the difficulty in obtaining data, from a practitioner point of view. And do you have any thoughts around this difficulty and what should be done about collecting data.


IVAN: That’s also a very good question. I think in this day and age, everybody can say that data is important. But beyond that, it is very hard for people to answer why is it important. Because alot of people get into this data journey, this game of data, without understanding the type of questions they want to answer. Just to bring everything back to basics, for data analytics to be meaningful to any business, you have to first understand what you want to achieve with this data. You need to understand what kind of questions you want answered. What kind of problems you want solved. With that, you can better strategise how you want to collect the data. First and foremost, you have to look at what are the objectives. And then you can start to form this strategy on where do i get this data, is this data clean, how do i clean the data. How do manipulate the data, and so on and so forth. But first, we have to understand what we want to do with the data.


IMRAN: You are talking about first principles right, what are the fundamentals and what are the objectives? Maybe to deepen the question, what kind of data is important to collect from a retailer mall management perspective. You did mention, for example, checking crowds. Are there certain fundamental data that mall management should be looking at today to deepen on?


IVAN: Definitely for mall management’s perspective, it’s really about rent. The whole business as a landlord is to collect rent. I think part of the rent component is GTO, because there is the base rent component for most malls. You have also Gross Turnovers that landlords collect from transactions from retail shops. Definitely to understand how the malls is doing, a very important piece of information that landlord would need to have would be how much is being transacted in each retail shop, and I believe Aimazing has the solution for retail malls to tap on to get data like that.


JUN: Thank you for mentioning Aimazing. Just now you mentioned, shopping malls already have gross turnovers, GTO data which is used for rental purposes. We are also happy to see in the industry, because of this pandemic. We keep asking during this pandemic, what data can actually help malls. Not just only malls, but also for retailers. When we start to talk to alot of people in this industry, they happy thing is they not only focus on how i can collect accurate data just for rent. They are looking at how they can use their data to help back the retailers. One thing is very interesting, what are you thoughts when we start collecting data from retailers, how can we built trust, or how can we actually from your thoughts, what kind of data can actually benefit back to the retailers?


IVAN: What would benefit both retailers and retail mall would be thing like customer satisfaction. When people go to the mall, its about experiencing being in the mall. If there is no experience to be had of going to a physical mall, everyone would just shop online. Obviously people go to a physical mall for something. You can always buy those things in the mall very easily online nowadays. That is something we can’t deny. But why do people going back to the mall, there has to be a reason. I think besides GTO data, that is very practical, that is the business side of things. But also on the other side, it is about why are people going back. And why do people go to certain malls more than other malls. You really need to look at data that kind of tells you why. Why are people going to the mall, whether they are happy at the mall. Whether they go to the mall, do they just get one specific item and then they leave. Or do they go to the mall and get a few items. And of those items, what are those items? Is it grocery and stationeries, it can be a combination of those things. The retail mall management has specific questions like that that would be really helpful, then they would know what to measure. Is it a certain categories of stores that people are visiting more, why are certain categories not being visited. Where are they located at the mall, things like that.


IMRAN: You were alluding to this concept of customer journey. From the first step into the mall, what are they buying, what do they get next. What do you think are the data applications with respect to this customer journey. Do you think it is important to develop this, to develop better programming or multi-functions programmes? What do you think are the use cases here.


IVAN: Having a clear understanding of all of this. Customer satisfaction and the behaviour of the customer within the malls, how people are moving within the mall in respect to where the entrances are, where the carparks are. Having a detailed view on all of this and understanding would definitely give the retail management and edge. They would know where to position certain things, where to push certain things, how do you push human traffic to certain directions. In order to do that, you would need to understand customer behaviour.


IMRAN: The next questions that I have are some wrap up questions which is, one piece of advice each, if you have a mall manager sitting in front of you today, what is your one piece of advice for him. If you have a retailer, what is your one piece of advice to him or her. I know it is tough for you but you would have to today for this interview.


IVAN: There is a lot of things I would like to tell these people. I would say one good thing to say to a retail mall manager is to not be stubborn. We are moving to a very digital age right now, and what digital means also is different to different people. And even data analytics. Some people think data analytics is a tableau dashboard, while others think that data analytics is using programmes like R and Python to do regression analysis, which is essentially what it is, to understand it better. It is to not be stubborn, to do your homework, to understand what is going on out there. What are the new technologies available and how your competitors are approaching this whole data game. How are they incorporating data analytics to their business. Even for marketing for example. Is the marketing a retail mall very similar to what it was to 5 years agao or is it very different. Things like that are very important to understand.


JUN: I think lastly we always like to end with is Do you believe that retail is still king, or how retail can still be the king?


IVAN: That is also a very interesting question. The way I would answer this question is that retail, just like any other industry will have winners and people who are trying to catch up with the whole industry. I think it really is about how do you stay ahead in the industry that you are in, and for retail, how do you stay ahead and continue to get consumers to shop your product or your store, whether it is online or offline. How do you want to marry those experiences. And how people do this is also to always constantly measure. You need to always test, you also need to measure, also need to reiterate and try new things. That is how I think people can stay ahead in the retail industry and be one of the kings in the retail industry.


IMRAN: Thank you, very insightful Ivan. Actually with that we have come to the end of the episode. Thanks so much for joining us today Ivan, it has been a pleasure talking to you.


IVAN: Likewise, thanks for having me.


IMRAN: And to everyone listening at home, we hope this episode has been insightful. If you have any queries, you can obviously find Ivan, otherwise you can find aimazing on our linkedin, facebook and Instagram. Thank you again Ivan, see you soon.


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