Nanjing Road West gets smarter

The big data revolution has made it to one of the city's streets, giving retailers the opportunity of adjusting their merchandise to attract the most customers.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A woman stops by screens showing how big data reflects business on Nanjing Road W.

The big data revolution has made it to the popular shopping street Nanjing Road W.

The bustling street joined the city’s project of “smart commercial zones” two years ago. Last Friday, an upgraded version was released there. It gives retailers the opportunity of adjusting their merchandise to attract more customers.

“The previous version was designed for the government to help manage retailers, like acting in time in case of excess crowds,” said Zhao Jian, vice chairman of the Jing’an Commerce Commission. “The new version can serve retailers by helping them operate businesses more efficiently.”

The game changer, according to industry analysts, was Shanghai Data Exchange, which was set up last year in the Shibei High Technology Park. They said it drafted a clear blueprint for handling big data.

“We have to understand the forces that impact retailers,” said Tang Qifeng, chief executive of the exchange.

By analyzing data collected from various channels, including WiFi access and UnionPay transfers, the system can quickly profile potential customers.

“From the data produced, retailers can know which class of consumers they should target,” Zhao said.

Also, the system can tell whether pop-up stores and marketing activities really work to increase sales and whether the store’s location and pricing is right.

“Big data is very reliable,” Zhao added, citing street surveys as an example.

“We could distribute thousands of questionnaires on the street to study whether people like a given shopping mall or not,” he said. “Now we can see something like a man leaving a store with a happy face, which directly implies that he likes the store.”

Both Zhao and Tang are optimistic about the system’s application. They plan to put it to the market next year and they are convinced retailers will be impressed.

In the future, the system will be further upgraded to have artificial intelligence-driven recommendation functions included, which can predict what consumers like.

Lu Jun, official with Jing’an Commerce Commission, gives an example. “When you buy a Hermes bag in Plaza 66, we will tell you where you can find a suit to go with it. When it’s lunchtime, we will recommend you to a high-end western restaurant based on your records,” he said.

He added, “It is what we called precision marketing, by which we can liven up the whole commercial zone.”

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