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Want To Know How To Fill A Vacant Space? Just Ask The Consumer

As the retail sector continues to shift due to the rise of digital consumerism, retailers are hunting for innovative ways to stand out among the crowd.

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The rise of e-commerce and an excess of retail real estate has forced many retail companies to enter bankruptcy protection and shutter stores, leaving landlords across the country with empty storefronts and high vacancy rates. 

Real estate crowdsourcing startup Space Jam Data aims to help alleviate these challenges.

The platform, used by major mall owners Regency Centers, Kimco Realty, DDR Corp. and Thor Equities, provides consumer insights for retail real estate by leveraging crowdsourced data through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram in order to better understand what consumers want and effectively cater to their desires. 

"Crowdsourcing is an interesting idea and will help [to get] millennial customers to buy in to brands," NRF Media Relations Coordinator Karlie Frank said.

What Shoppers Really Want

Want To Know How To Fill A Vacant Space? Just Ask The Consumer

New York-based Space Jam’s technology works to benefit both retailers and retail landlords by providing insights that allow them to make more informed real estate decisions based on where loyal consumers are situated. The platform also offers retailers information about shopping centers of interest and competition in the area to help with the decision-making process.

“Instead of assuming a market would respond well to a new grocery store, we can ask thousands of people in that market if they would shop at a grocery store. [Aside from] traditional surveying, there’s never really been a way to do that before at scale,” Space Jam Data CEO and co-founder Benjamin Cohen said.

While most retailers today utilize some sort of data in order to locate the best site for their brand, social media is starting to become a more viable option for helping to hone in on optimal locations. Not only does it give a voice to the consumer, but the information can be gathered quickly and in real time. This is an advantage over traditional methods of data collection like census data, which looks at metrics such as population density and household income, but is often dated by the time it is released.

“What’s different about our tool compared to most retail analytics tools is that we don’t make assumptions based on existing data. We’re going directly to the customers and asking them what they want,” Cohen said.

Mall Owners Turn To Space Jam For Better Intel

Want To Know How To Fill A Vacant Space? Just Ask The Consumer
Space Jam Data Platform

Giving retailers access to direct and accurate consumer information is helping Space Jam make a name for itself in the commercial real estate industry. 

Large shopping center owners and public real estate investment trusts are among the customers that use Space Jam Data. The company does crowdsourcing in more than 35 states and has created reports for more than 500 properties in the U.S. since its inception in 2015.

Lewis Retail Centers recently used Space Jam to determine whether or not there were issues with the company's largest shopping centers that were preventing people from visiting, and if there were any specific stores customers wanted to see in its malls that were not already there.

"From the responses, we were able to identify one property management issue and a few new tenant ideas that we were able to take action on. I don’t think without the responses we would have been able to act so quickly," Lewis Retail Centers Director of Marketing Wayne Williams said.

Looking for a more effective way to fill its vacancies, Rockstep Capital, the owner of Aberdeen Mall in North Dakota, turned to Space Jam as well. Using online advertising and promoted Facebook posts and surveys, the mall was able to gather thousands of responses from the community about how it wants the spaces to be filled. The most common answers? Activities for children and more restaurant options.

As such, the mall is now home to a popular bounce house for the children of the community, called Bounce Around Aberdeen. The shopping center will soon feature two new restaurants, Wishbone Smokehouse and FarmBoys Soups, Salads and Spuds, according to KSFY-TV.

“It’s great to see retail landlords as well as retailers pay close attention to what their shoppers actually want,” Cohen said.

The Space Jam team recently expanded and has started working with municipalities to help city officials understand what community members want out of their neighborhoods in an effort to help attract new businesses to the area.

Attracting Tenants, Consumers With Data

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Space Jam is one of only a few innovative companies that have turned to crowdsourcing to provide retail data.

"I do believe that the service is a great tool for the retail industry. As the industry continues to evolve it’s important that developers and owners understand the thoughts, needs and wants of [their] customers," Williams said.

San Mateo, California-based Wiser provides a similar service to Space Jam and uses omnichannel data from e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores such as emails and social media to help determine what consumers want. This information is then combined with software to determine cost savings, profit growth and improved marketing strategies for retail brands.

FourSquare is perhaps the most well-known app in the crowdsourcing space that uses location intelligence to cater to both consumers and businesses in order to provide better experiences to both. The data works to help brands get a more comprehensive understanding of their target markets in addition to providing measurable results on advertising efforts and foot traffic.

The app now has more than 105 million venues around the world.

“These days there’s a lot more that goes into the old saying, ‘location, location, location.’ Knowing where your shoppers want you to be and having the ability to communicate with your shoppers through new channels like ours is becoming more and more of the standard in the site selection process,” Cohen said. “We’re excited to be a company that is adding the new data point of social media into the evolving site selection process."