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CEOs Speak: Westfield, Under Armour Leaders Talk the Future for Retail

Imagine driving into a mall parking lot and getting a welcome alert on your smartphone because your license plate was recognized, then getting directions to an available parking space closest to the stores you want to go to, because the mall knows you like that.

That’s just part of what Westfield co-CEO Steven Lowy envisions for the malls he manages, and the notion isn’t all that far off.

But to get it done, brands will have to learn to share.

“Collaboration is the new competition,” Lowy said. “Traditionally, our industry has protected proprietary intellectual property above everything else, but things are changing. Businesses are beginning to realize that their biggest threat isn’t one another, their biggest threat is actually the status quo.”

Leveraging the power of shared data will be vital to elevating the consumer in-store experience. And when shoppers shop, they aren’t thinking about their relationship with any one brand, Lowy explained, they just want to have a good experience.

The way Lowy sees it, if companies could partner, share their shopper data, then Westfield could alert Zara when that shopper pulls into the parking lot, Zara could respond letting the shopper know via their mobile device that there’s a new collection in the store, and then when the shopper leaves the store, Westfield might even ask them if they’d like a coffee from the food court, which they could order from the phone.

“We’re not just anticipating this reality,” Lowy said. “We’re already building it.”

Experience is so key because, despite the exponential growth in mobile commerce, shoppers are still frequenting stores in droves.

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According to Lowy, more than 70 million customers flock to the top Westfield shopping centers each year, and when Westfield World Trade Center opens in New York City later this year, more than 300,000 people are expected to pass through each day.

“In order to survive, we need to make physical retail much more exciting,” Lowy said.

And providing excitement isn’t only necessary in stores, it’s about a brand meeting its consumer where they are, providing an experience—irrespective of channel—that melds into the consumers’ lifestyle and solidifies their loyalty.

That’s what Under Armour wants to do.

The company’s founder, chairman and CEO Kevin Plank said it’s all about personalization and localization, and “the brands that win are the ones that truly understand how to live online and offline.”

Selling shirts and shoes may be the brand’s major forte, but Plank wants Under Armour to be more than that—he wants to give consumers a digital dashboard of their health.

Think about this, he said, “You know more about your car than your own body.” Once you get in a car, you know its mileage, how much gas it has, if it needs to be serviced, but most people can’t say how many times they were sick in the past year or how their sleeping patterns have shifted.

Under Armour’s Connected Fitness will ultimately help users understand themselves better. The company acquired fitness apps Endomondo and MyFitnessPal to supplement its MapMyFitness and UA Record applications to better equip it to succeed in its goal of making all athletes—professional or otherwise—better.

So far, Under Armour has 160 million users across the four apps and more than 150,000 people downloading one of the apps each day. The ultimate goal, Plank said, is to merge all of the apps into one, which would be UA Record.

The company has partnered with IBM Watson, the technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from data, to provide users with cognitive coaching for themselves. The idea is that using this so called digital dashboard of your health, you’ll be able to review when you slept the best, when you felt the best, how much you exercised during those times and make educated strides toward getting healthier.

Bringing all of that big data back to retail, if Under Armour is looped into a consumer’s fitness habits and knows they went on seven hikes in the last month, they could show them their new hiking shoe.

“If there’s a theme that comes up, you can project and place your product in the right place at the right time,” Plank said. That’s the kind of experience consumers want from brands today, one that helps improve and simplify the increasingly complex lives they lead. “The choice is not do you want brick-and-mortar or do you want e-commerce, the choice is truly both,” he said.