Human mobility insights key to reopening for CRE-backed Retailers

Social distancing insights critical to virus containment and retail recovery planning

Struggling U.S. retailers continue to adapt their physical stores and business processes in the push to reopen quickly and safely. The top reopening priority of each retail brand, of course, is the need to protect employees and customers from exposure to, or further transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

To meet these strict safety requirements, retailers backed by commercial real estate firms are investing heavily to adapt their current stores, malls, warehouses and such ahead of the return to work. But the work to improve retailer's physical assets can not be undertaken, or even planned, absent first having hard data on how people can and must move in those spaces to stay safe go-forward.

Seeing the market opportunity, Johnson Controls stepped up its offerings recently via Sensormatic Solutions, its retail solutions portfolio.

The idea is to leverage Johnson Controls' deeply-embedded business and technical relationships in retail automation to quickly and efficiently scale enterprise-class return to work solutions for traditional retail in a very different future of consumerism.

As a matter of focus, the Sensormatic business unit aggregates data from these different controls and integration points to help retailers make ". . . critical insights into retail inventory, shopper traffic and loss prevention and deliver real-time visibility and predictive analytics for accurate decision-making across the enterprise."

This is an ideal place to integrate human mobility data as a part of reopening and staying open in a pandemic market.

Enter Johnson/Sensormatic's business partner, NYC-based Unacast, creators of the Social Distancing Scoreboard and the Retail Impact Scoreboard, which use human mobility data to track the spread of Covid-19, and can help retailers plan for a safe reopening process.

Unacast’s opt-in, location-based data provides insights to when and where retail will recover by understanding consumer mobility patterns and people’s comfort with public spaces. As a value-add, a Social Distancing Scoreboard layers statistics related to new reported cases with changes in mobility and non-essential store visits, and provides daily community grades (A to F) to help retailers evaluate reopening individual store locations across their enterprise.

Reopening physical stores is vital to many U.S. retailers and more importantly, their CRE investors and partners.

Brookfield Asset Management (BAM) and Simon Property Group (SPG) recently announced a significant investment fund with the explicit purpose of taking non-controlling shares in retail stocks hard-hit by the global pandemic. BAM and SPG are both have investments throughout the retail ecosystem: shopping malls, retail leasing companies, etc. Why?

When retailers can't operate safely they can't pay their leases and they don't sign new tenancy agreements and the works get gummed up, and that can't happen.

As a result, CRE investors perhaps skeptical of human mobility data's relevance in their industry at the end of 2019 are now scrambling to get smart and get their retail portfolios producing again, soon.

The data that retailers need to safely and successfully reopen their bricks-and-mortar stores, or plan and construct new and physical assets is readily available. But it will take smart money from institutional investors and well-positioned technology partners to permanently keep the lights on in America's post-pandemic retail storefront.

Scott Valentine, Editor

Scott is a prolific editor specializing in B2B tech. His work has appeared with Forbes, the WSJ, Thomson Reuters, the Guardian, VentureBeat, the CBC and many more. Scott's clients include top retailers, analytics companies and investors. As a marketing and communications executive, Scott has been part of $1.5 billion in exits, and counting.