Inside Westfield’s mission to ‘redefine the shopping mall as a media owner’
Owner of Westfield malls, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW), currently boasts 1,700 digital billboards and 230 brand experience locations – it now has a two-year transformation plan to become a media powerhouse.
The firm has hired Caroline Puechoultres to spearhead the project. She joined as chief customer officer and a member of the management board in July 2021 after a two-year stint as executive director of sales and strategy for Carrefour Market, with lofty ambitions to double revenue from URW’s brand partnerships by 2024.
Puechoultres sat down with The Drum a year into the post to outline her transformation strategy.
Lady Gaga launches Love for Sale at Westfield Mall of the Netherlands
Becoming a ‘powerful media owner’
“We want to position ourselves not just as a shopping and leisure destination, but be an active powerful media owner, redefining the shopping mall as a media owner,” Puechoultres explains. “We want to shift from an opportunistic business into a strategic business and to do our commercial partnerships in a more professional way.”
The URW group formed in 2018 after Westfield outlets were brought by a French real estate firm. URW is the largest commercial real estate company in Europe and counts 85 shopping malls globally.
To execute its plans URW will set up a European business unit to sell media, activations and experiences to brands. The strategy shift follows in the footsteps of retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Tesco, which have already made the transition into media owners. Talking about those retailers, Puechoultres says “that is exactly where we want to be.” She believes the changes URW is making will inspire fellow mall chains to adopt its approach to help develop their businesses.
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Going big on experiential
URW built its media strategy around a mountainous piece of research polling 15,000 customers in eight markets. Puechoultres had two key learnings; the first is that people are hungry for sustainable consumption, waiting for shopping brands to help them change their behavior; and the second is that Covid-19 has made people crave human relationships – and that means experiential services.
According to Puechoultres, retailers are reducing the number of bricks and mortar stores but increasing their footprint in URW stores. “They want fewer stores but better performing stores, larger stores with more retail entertainment,” she says.
Leisure also now counts for around 25% of Westfield make-up and will be increasing each year. “We know people are looking for more experience and less consumption – they want to continue buying but buy differently and they want an experience,” Puechoultres says. “We act as an entertainment park like Disney, but you don’t have to pay to enter, you aren’t forced to buy anything, you can just have water and observe.”
Westfield London, for example, is packed with activation spaces from an AstroTurf terrace currently hosting a Wimbledon experience, entrance takeovers occupied by Minions: The Rise of Gru promotions and pop-up store spaces in which F1 team Williams has set up shop.
Peroni Nastro Azzuro 0% had the most striking takeover at Westfield London to promote its sponsorship of the Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team. Peroni implanted an F1 garage in which customers could play, handed out free Peroni Nastro Azzuro 0% and executed an out-of-home (OOH) and digital out-of-home (DOOH) takeover campaign throughout the center.
Global measurement tool
To gain credibility as a media owner, URW needs to prove to advertisers its sites generate impressions and ROI. To meet this need URW has developed a new measurement tool that gives GDPR-compliant end-to-end visibility showing every customer’s journey around its stores.
One year into a two-year build, URW is planning for its “one platform, one audience, one inventory” approach to collate both on and offline. The tech will show brands how customers respond to different types of advertising in the mall and purchasing behavior.
“We will be able to close the loop, meaning from the advertising we are spreading across our mall we will be able to get the measurement of drive to store,” Puechoultres says. She is also looking to evolve the business from “selling panels to selling audiences,” but assures this will come when its partners have the proof the data has been qualified.
With its own first-party data, URW is hoping to cater to brands in a cookieless world. “People visit our stores with the intent to buy, so are at the lower part of the funnel,” she says.
Local to global
A key part of Puechoultres’ strategy is to unify URW’s 85 shopping centers across 12 countries under one Westfield brand. “That is a big shift we are doing, going from local to international,” she says.
Westfield has strong brand awareness in the UK and the US where the centers have a long history, but in continental Europe many of its sites have recently been acquired and rebranded as Westfield. To lay the foundations of a unified Westfield brand, URW is merging 55 local websites into one global online platform.
URW also wants to position itself as a “laboratory” for advertisers to test campaigns and ROI on a local level before executing a global campaign. Puechoultres referenced a recent Nike campaign that tested seven ads out on customers in a French Westfield site. When it had results on which ad produced the highest in-store uplift, it then informed its global strategy.
“To us, it really demonstrates the powerfulness of the platform – it’s not just a local mall but it’s a platform of malls that can be used to launch products, music, films,” Puechoultres says.
Puechoultres says the crowning glory of this strategy was a Lady Gaga gig broadcasted online with physical fan zones in 21 Westfield centers across Europe and the US and watched by 1.6 million people.