Is an enhanced parking experience the key to retail revitalisation?
Posted 22 December 2015, Australia
The world is now a consumer society….and in recent years, even though they may have tried to fight it, most consumers have finally been lured over to the dark side…..the world of online shopping! What is it that has turned even the most hardened retail shopper, to prefer to blandly browse and buy from a tiny smart phone screen? Why does anyone prefer to take the chance that items never touched or tried on, will hopefully fit their requirements?
Often the decision not to visit a retail centre is an issue of saving time and stress. Shopping at the busiest times, for instance on a Saturday or in the evenings after work, will usually mean the added event of circling a busy car park, eventually parking a long way from the desired location and finally, inevitably tackling the crowds through the busy shops and streets.
How can parking help to reignite a love for shopping at the retail centre?
Whether it’s buying an item online from the comfort of the sofa and having it arrive the next day, or ordering shopping via the stores loyalty app – today’s consumers expect a quick and effortless service, and parking should start to reflect these changes in the consumer’s expectations and buying behaviour.
The ability to pre-book a parking space at an airport has been around for quite some time. The journey to and from the airport was always an unfair added stress to many, considering that they were time poor, and had invested so much in their holiday. Airports became wise to the fact that by enhancing the entire customer experience, they could benefit on many levels.
National Car Parks (NCP) in the UK has used an online parking reservation system for some time, and continue to work with ADVAM on providing more options to enhance their customer’s parking experience.
The online reservation system enables shoppers to avoid the hassles of driving round and around to find a parking space, they can simply book online, via mobile or tablet and go direct to their parking space once they arrive at the retail centre.
Westfield shopping centres also make sure that their customer’s end to end shopping experience is enjoyable, by the use of a parking membership scheme. At Westfield Miranda in Australia, a retail consumer can manage their parking online. Shoppers register with the membership account, providing vehicle and payment details. Once they arrive at the car park, their car is recognised via number plate recognition and the car-park barrier opens. The customer is able to shop for as long as they want, and then on exiting the car park their parking costs are calculated and charged to their account. Parking becomes a less stressful element of the trip. Added to the customer benefit of an improved parking experience, the retail centre can begin to gather information about the user. Once the additional information is analysed, other products for purchase can be suggested, such as a car wash and valet for while the customer shops, or bundles and discount voucher options can be presented too. The solution can also be linked to loyalty schemes, improving the consumer experience even further.
Town Centre Parking
Another impact of the digital age is that retailers and Local Governments need to work harder to attract people to their town and city centres. Retail expert Mary Portas suggests that the urgent action to salvage the centre should include free parking to in lure shoppers back inside the stores, along-side parking league tables that rank car parks by how much they charge. However, rather than providing free parking maybe the car park operators, need to look more towards enhancing the customer’s overall experience.
Not only do councils need to make the central destination more desirable by reducing congestion around their towns, cities and car parks, but they also need to make sure it is easier to park. Consumers no longer want to carry cash and be given the responsibility of looking after paper tickets. Instead they prefer to easily enter, park and exit a car park with as little effort as possible.
When the consumer has the ability to have an online account, they can manage their details and automatically pay for the service as they use it. There is no need to stop to collect a paper ticket, find cash for a payment machine or even swipe their payment card. To use the cashless service a customer simply registers online via the parking operators’ website. The customer will provide the required details as defined by the parking operator, based on the access and enforcement controls to be used.
Once registered, the customer simply drives in, parks, and exits the car park. As they exit, the correct parking fee is calculated and funds are automatically deducted from their account, or a linked payment card.
There is no doubt that a cashless society is the future, and with trailblazers such as ApplePay, this may well be an all too soon reality. Cashless parking is well established already, however the numerous current cashless systems in use do not necessarily have enough benefits for the parking operator. In a society when knowing the customer, is the key to keeping them happy, the ability to capture data about the consumer via a cashless system is invaluable.
Leigh Thornton from Surrey Heath Borough Council explains: “By working with ADVAM and also the NewPark ticketless barrier controlled system we have been able to develop a solution that will enable us to drive operational efficiency and improve the customers’ experience. Not only are we able to offer a completely frictionless solution that will help us to reduce congestion, but we will also have the management data to provide loyalty incentives and support retail growth. We are very excited to develop this service further, creating additional loyalty benefits to our customers and developing new packages aimed at local businesses”.
Administration and management reporting
A key benefit of online account management is that the parking operator is able to easily create and modify parking tariffs. In addition, management reporting data enables the parking operator to analyse car park use, seasonal trends and gives the correct information in order to further enhance the parking experience. With an administration console available via the cloud, access is available from anywhere, without the requirement for any additional hardware or software.
Reduce Traffic Congestion
As drivers do not need to stop and collect a ticket, the flow of traffic in to the car park is greatly enhanced. This improved flow helps to ease congestion around a car park entrance and reduces the spread of congestion in the surrounding area.
The need for tickets, payment machines or costly cash collection services is removed. This can reduce costs due to the removal of physical tickets and associated high upfront hardware and maintenance costs.
Improve customer loyalty
Due to the ease of entry and payment, customers are inclined to park more frequently at the same car park. In addition, as the solution is account based, parking operators are able to provide loyalty incentive programmes. The programmes can be directly linked to the car park, or operators can work with third parties to provide relevant value-add benefits.
A key feature of the ideal solution is that it is equipment agnostic. Integration with the existing access control and enforcement systems allow an operator to maintain their existing equipment and therefore reduce the cost of deployment.
The removal of paper tickets and reduced traffic congestion work to support environmental sustainability targets. In addition, the solution is easily scalable to support growth and future developments.
Arguably the future of the retail experience will involve wearable technology which holds the entirety of a consumer’s information. The idea of a ring or a watch allowing the entrance to a parking facility, at the time and flexible duration of the customer’s choosing, as well as it holding the details of the restaurant and theatre reservation too, would remove much stress from the shopping experience.
The future picture of a cashless society is an exciting landscape. Technology advances in parking will continue to be revolutionary, and it may be, that it is these innovative advances and their integration with third party programmes which hold the key to revitalising the consumer shopping experience, and enticing them away from the comfort of their sofa and back into the retail centre.
ParkCharge is the most comprehensive ticketless parking management platform on offer to the parking industry. Developed in partnership with the world’s leading suppliers of car park access control systems it is uniquely positioned to work with any access control. In addition, parking operators are able to deploy ParkCharge as a fully integrated service where the tariff is managed from within the car park access control system or as a standalone solution where the tariff is managed within ParkCharge.