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Soon you'll never need cash to shop in a Westfield mall again

Westfiled Shopping Centre. Photo: Getty Images

The final frontier of cash payments in Westfield’s shopping centres is the food court but the group is on a mission to fix that.

“For a while that was ok, it was a small value transaction but the tipping point was probably about 18 months ago when everyone started getting frustrated,” Scentre Group general manager of BrandSpace Media Bill Burton told Business Insider.

After running a national campaign to convert food outlets to tap and pay systems with Commbank and Visa without minimum spend limits, Westfield is almost there. But Burton says transforming Westfield’s big glass, steel and marble buildings into tech-friendly hubs is a project which never ends.

“It’s an ‘always on’ relationship where we’re trying to navigate our pathway into the future,” he said.

“It was a lot easier in the days when we just built a beautiful marble building with glass balustrades and filled it with great retailers and pretty good signage.”

Scentre Group General Manager, BrandSpace Media Bill Burton. Image: Damien Shaw.

Eradicating cash-only businesses is part of a broader tech strategy the traditional bricks and mortar landlord is pursuing to help tenants compete against the conveniences of online shopping.

This involves examining every element of the shopping experience. At its Miranda centre, south of Sydney, the group has implemented ticketless parking so there are no more boom gates to hit in your SUV. It also means there are no parking tickets to lose in your handbag. The system figures out how long you’ve been shopping by recognising your number plate on entry and exit.

“If we can bit-by-bit make it easier and smarter, we know now that in the future shoppers will most probably have their car keys and their phone,” he said, adding the group is working on a range of mobile wallet solutions,” Burton said.

Just last week Westfield announced a partnership with CommBank to trial an app where loyalty cards are electronically loaded on your phone and offers are sent to shoppers via their mobile when they’re in a Westfield centre.

“This year is all about how to bring offers to the table and how to use mobile as a key part of the shopper’s life,” Burton said.

Communicating with shoppers using smart screens is another advancement which has been rolled out across the shopping centres. Maps are now interactive, instead of a simple poster behind a pane of glass, and people can search information using one of the 1,200 screens across 38 centres.

“In our older business we didn’t have to know each shopper. We had to know our trade area… We knew most likely what times people would come, what they’d use and none of that changes but [shoppers] do want us to be able to communicate through new channels, not just posters,” he said.

Last year Westfield struck a deal with tech startup Skyfii to trial free WiFi in its malls. With Optus providing the bandwidth and Skyfii providing the analytics and a targeted offer service, shoppers can sign up for 1GB of free data to use over a three-hour period each day.

In return the users will be tracked in real-time and the data sent to retailers in order to assist in improving marketing to potential consumers.

A bunch of innovation is also coming out of Westfield’s San Francisco-based labs where the team is working on leveraging social, mobile and digital market opportunities to ensure the physical shopping experience doesn’t get left behind.

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