GPT Group using data to determine retail space success

ASX-listed GPT Group has realised the power of data by implementing a data visualisation solution from Tableau to reveal the best income-generating retail mix in its shopping centres.

Property trust GPT Group listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in 1971, but despite being a 45-year-old company, the retail, office, and logistics-focused organisation has been investing in its data to, amongst other projects, find the winning formula for a shopping centre.

With some iconic Australian assets such as the MLC Centre in Sydney, Melbourne Central, and One One One Eagle Street in Brisbane, GPT Group's focus is in property. But for them it's not just about renting out a shop, it's about generating a return from every inch of the shopping centre's space by maximising the customer experience.

Sharmila Tsourdalakis, chief information officer at GPT Group, said this means the company sees its customers' customers as its own.

"For us, data is becoming quite a fuel in the organisation and a key tenant for how we actually operate," she said.

Two years ago, Tsourdalakis set out to move on from the heavy usage of Excel and reduce the amount of time the company was spending in accessing the data, as well as the time it took to prepare the data as a report. She said this resulted in limited time actually spent on analysing the data.

"That was really the starting point and the challenge," she said.

"If you look at our organisation historically, now we stand at AU$19 billion [of assets under management] but we also have acquired assets, so when you're taking on that data from another organisation, the amount of time it takes to make these investment decisions and to be able to give the power back to the business, that was really our focus."

Tsourdalakis said GPT Group went through a process of identifying the relevant data sources it had, taking a look at the status of the data under categories such as its age and cleanliness.

"Most people wouldn't realise but in property we have access to a lot of data. We focus on sustainability data, supply data, building management data, there's a number of different elements," she said.

After implementing a solution from data visualisation firm Tableau, Tsourdalakis said the company's new capability offered staff the power to make decisions without having to move through the IT department.

To begin with, GPT Group was interested in actionable insights, but what the company was actually going to do with such insights became a key thread, she added.

"We were looking at what does it look like on a sector level, where does it balance on a whole-of-business level, as well as key things we would look at on a regular basis including a balanced score card," Tsourdalakis said.

"Really from there we shifted gears from that operational efficiency and productivity focus through to how can we use this data to better help our customers, and we are on this journey at the moment."

GPT Group already had an agreement in place with its tenants to provide the organisation with data on everything relevant for their respective business models, so with that in place, Tsourdalakis said the company began using Tableau to determine the winning combination of a centre.

"[We look] at what is the actual sales growth per type of retailer over a trend period of three years, two years, one year, we can start to drive an informed decision on what is the retail mix of the centre and what it should be," she said.

"For example, if you have a major store or a type of food catering, how does that actually drive the retail mix?

"From a landlord's perspective, we can look at and say, if we were to bring in a major [retailer], a food retailer, or a coffee shop, what does that do to the whole precinct because really it isn't just about that individual space, it's really you go to a place for the overall experience."

The data from each individual retailer is analysed by GPT Group to determine the most successful centre mix, giving the organisation an insight into what bringing in a new store or food court will do the shopping centre's dynamic.

The retail space is just one sector GPT Group is looking at. Tsourdalakis noted that the potential applications it can use data analytics in are endless.

"We have a centre manager who wants to use Tableau around a whole bunch of other things around operational management, so this concept of embed, adopt, and continuing to evolve is very much front of mind for our organisation as we are really at the start of our journey," she said.

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