Q&A - Asif Khan, GroundLevel Insights

Location-based marketing expert discusses Covid-19 impacts on Retail and CRE

RWG Staff
April 23, 2020

Asif Khan usually spends his time flying around the world to speak at events in his role as CEO of GroundLevel Insights and President of the Location-based Marketing Association (LMA). RWG caught-up with Asif recently to get his thoughts on the future of retail and how the CRE industry can bounce back from the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's what Asif had to say:

How have things changed for you since Covid-19 took hold? Has this experience led you to approach your work or the market differently?

Lots of Zoom and Slack! Our LMA Trade Association has moved everything to virtual now. It is a little bit harder to get people who are working from home to really focus. There are too many distractions like the kids, the computer and it is hard for them to listen to our content for several hours (as the attendees would at a conference). So we are making it easier by dissecting content modules into shorter sessions over two days.”

What is the single greatest impact the Covid-19 pandemic is having on the commercial real estate markets you're watching? Are there other impacts to the market that are being overlooked just now?

The impact really is that people are not using their leased spaces and so they are not going to want to pay for them! People surely will not need as much commercial space. There is a bit of an upside in that we are reducing our carbon footprint, and there is an energy savings in electric, water utilities and other resource heavy requirements. 

For retail, the shopping experience is necessarily going to change. We are already so used to online shopping and now we are buying clothing and groceries exclusively online! We were a family who might have gone to a restaurant to sit down to a meal once a week. Now we are all about Uber Eats and grocery delivery for fresh vegetables. The entire service is integrated with Apple Pay. No hassles, no parking. 

People won’t go back to the old retail standalone store model.

Talk about a deal that has been disrupted by Covid-19 -- How terms changed, how the different parties were affected. Talk about innovative ways COMPANY BRAND is keeping the market engaged during physical distancing measures etc.

Our LMA Association has regularly done weekly and video podcasts so it was easy to make this transition. We have a special series now called ‘Members At-Home’ with senior executives in location marketing. One thing that is new is that our folks are leveraging their own technology even more to benefit society. I have heard so many stories of people helping others. In fact, Dev Hub in Seattle has done some pro bono work for the Pike Place Fish Market.

This is such a tourism place and Dev Hub is making its donation wall for charity come to life. They are a start-up that used their own tech to create a virtual wall and the funds go to support the displaced restaurant industry workers in Seattle. Of course, Seattle was hit very hard with Covid-19, so it’s nice to use location marketing to create a tourism experience with a charity hook.

My own company, GroundLevel Insights, uses Unacast data to feed data into our platform and provide analysis to our clients. We are seeing how we can leverage our work for good. How? Sports and entertainment venues have paid us to understand foot traffic at their stadiums or entertainment complex. We are now repurposing our platform to monitor contact tracing for Covid-19. And we are tracing the economic recovery of regions as well.

We are helping the federal government of Canada with contact tracing for return to work or to showcase areas already in an economic recovery.

Name a CRE investment market that stands to benefit in the wake of Covid-19 and/or pick a proptech segment that is positioned for rapid growth and discuss the conditions that will create its success.

The City of Toronto has taken a big hit with large Target stores leaving the regional shopping malls here. So Toronto made a decision to repurpose those spaces through a citizen engagement campaign. Now we have a library, and a place where kids can hang out. Toronto is adding a theater, and more arts and culture in this space. We may also find a way to add senior living centres to the mix. 

For CRE to work, you will have to find multi-use entities to be successful. You have to take what is there and make it experiential and a real destination. You cannot have a true consumer experience without some interaction. 

I also heard about a Williams Sonoma Store in San Francisco that is now providing corporate groups with cooking classes. You can have your corporate retreat and everyone can make a recipe (of course using Williams Sonoma cookware!). This is where we all need to go!

GroundLevel Insights is an unparalleled start-up that is brought to life by a team with its origins in movement science and location intelligence. The team brings a wealth of experience in product development and brand marketing from globally successful brands such as Groupon, Starbucks, Netscape and Yelp. The team is lead by Founder & CEO, Asif R. Khan, who is known globally as the "Lord of Location" a respected speaker, author and investor in the location-based marketing and data intelligence space. GroundLevel Insights has completed a seed round of funding and will begin raising a Series A in November.

RWG Staff

RWG staff report the latest news and and views from the location intelligence industry.