A retail tech tour of the Battersea Power Station development
Digital out-of-home (DOOH) media firm Ocean Outdoor has been awarded the rights to develop and market 43 digital advertising screens, murals and experiential spaces at the Battersea Power Station retail site, which opened its doors to the public in October 2022.
The company said the range of DOOH assets it has planned will be in keeping with “the vibrancy and history of the development” of the Grade II listed building.
Ocean operates at UK shopping and leisure destinations sites such as Westfield and Birmingham, with its screens displaying a variety of content such as localised ads, brand messaging and, on occasion, big sporting event broadcasts.
Much of that will be replicated at the south London site. Indeed, it is the digital screen in general providing the main source of customer-facing tech at the new multipurpose community as it looks to merge tech with the tradition of the old power station.
Examples are plentiful. There is the LED moving image window display at Nike, which is the newest of the sports brand’s “Live” store concepts. There are also the multiple full-length-mirror-like digital screens welcoming visitors into make-up store MAC.
Cosmetics brand Kiehl’s has also placed a promotional screen in its window, allowing shoppers to take advantage of a special offer via a QR code scan. Meanwhile, Tommy Hilfiger, Adidas and Ray Ban have put touchscreens in their shops as information points.
Tommy Hilfiger’s single screen allows its visitors an opportunity to explore the full product range online. Adidas tells its sustainability story via its screen, including by using videos showcasing how it uses recycled plastic waste in some product manufacturing.
Ray Ban’s screen has a very specific purpose, though – supporting its Ray Ban Stories product. The smartglasses, which launched in 2021 in association with Meta, allow users to stream music, pick up phone calls, and store pictures and videos.
The touchscreen is used as a merchandising aid in store, allowing consumers a chance to investigate the Facebook View app that accompanies the glasses and acts as a conduit for sharing content captured by the product.
Other examples of touchscreens in stores at Battersea include Pret a Manger, which has placed an “Explore our Menu” point by the food counter, and MAC, which has embedded its “Virtual Try-On” tool among the shelves. The former provides transparency on the ingredients used in Pret products, while the latter enables customers to experiment with thousands of make-up shades using augmented reality (AR) technology.
Sam Cotton, head of leasing at Battersea Power Station Development Company (BPSDC), says: “As a new retail and leisure destination, we have had the opportunity to bring exciting tech into the consumer experience, particularly around wayfinding, such as our QR code-activated maps.
“It is essential that consumers have all the information they need about the power station in the palm of their hand as they explore the iconic landmark and the mix of shops, restaurants and bars that now call it home.”
He adds: “We have strived to be as accessible and user-friendly as possible, which also means combining tech with more traditional support, such as a guest services team and static screens with maps that some guests find easier to navigate.”
Brand new community
There has been a retail technology and digital revolution in the past decade, which has seen thousands of new ideas enter the market aimed at helping retailers digitise their stores, combine online and offline services, or enhance shopper experience.
Annual events dedicated to this sector, including Nineteen Group’s London-based Retail Technology Show and NRF’s Big Show in New York, showcase hundreds of retail tech solutions such as AR, real-time mobile-supported wayfaring, digital shelf-edge labels, facial recognition, and much more.
But at Battersea, retailers are utilising a very limited selection of what is available from a customer-facing technology point of view. And, although this may change in time and it is using tech to measure live footfall figures across the neighbourhood, the centre itself has opted not to embrace a plethora of cutting-edge retail tech yet.
The arrangement with Ocean will change this somewhat, but Miya Knights, a retail analyst and publisher of Retail Technology magazine, says: “Battersea Power Station is in no way revolutionary when it comes to its use of innovative retail mall tech. The use of tech is decidedly underwhelming, offering more of a last-century mall experience than a 21st century one.
“It covers off the bare minimum when it comes to digital, with secure public Wi-Fi and a public-facing website. There’s an app to access shopping services, but it isn’t widely advertised.”
Knights says the stand-out retail tech comes from how retailers are now bridging the offline-to-online gap. “The most noticeable tech-related aspect of this new development is the effort made by its retail tenants to create truly ‘omnichannel’ stores that are as digital and mobile-friendly to shoppers who may go online as like to also visit stores,” she states.
“The new Zara flagship offers a fitting room reservation service, two-hour click and collect, and the ability to search online for items in the store and to check stock availability, for example.”
Uniqlo’s self-service checkouts provide another example of replicating the ease of shopping online in the store environment, with customers able to scan their items and pay for goods without the need for a member of staff.
Computer Weekly covered the nascent stages of this technology in 2018, with Zara and Nike among the first movers. Uniqlo was not far behind, and has introduced self-serve areas to several of its new store openings and refits across Europe.
Despite talk of this trend emerging four years ago, it is still novel for a fashion retailer in the UK to offer such services, so Uniqlo’s deployment of these tills is a tick in the tech innovation box for Battersea Power Station.
Considering the online marketplaces launched by the now defunct Intu shopping centres, the pre-pandemic activity at Westfield such as the unveiling and subsequent disposal of retail data solution, OneMarket, and Hammerson embracing tech, including via a tie-up with artificial intelligence company Deep North, Battersea is comparatively tech-lite.
But as Kien Tan, director for retail strategy at professional services firm PwC, says, Battersea Power Station doesn’t follow the same rules as retail-led shopping malls, which over the past decade have tended to widely embrace tech-enabled experiences.
“This is a place where people are going to live and work primarily, and there’s some shopping,” he explains, trying to highlight the thought process of those behind the development.
Kien Tan, PwC
The retail and hospitality element of the area “has to fit with the people living and working there”, he adds.
“Battersea’s raison d’etre is to build a brand new community. They have almost taken a town planning approach rather than a shopping centre development approach.”
Tan suggests it is a “well-thought-out public realm” for living, working, shopping and leisure. Its innovation comes not in its futuristic technology, but in the way it has come to fruition as a place-making project.
“Don’t think about it as a pure shopping centre – it’s almost like a new town,” he says, suggesting the development team would be happy to use tech if it is proven to help its residents and worker community.
Battersea Power Station is still far from its final state, with consumer electronics business Apple among the companies set to take office space there in the coming months. The site is destined to evolve as new occupants arrive.
Tech and sustainability innovation
Alongside the tech deployments, several sustainability initiatives stand out at Battersea Power Station. Increasingly, as Computer Weekly reported last year, retailers continue to introduce digital-led initiatives in store to, for example, help consumers recycle packaging or second-hand clothing.
Kiehl’s is doing this at Battersea, with QR codes used to provide information about its “Recycle & Be Rewarded” packaging recycling scheme. The initiative allows loyalty programme members to gain points for bringing in used cosmetics bottles.
Another company blending sustainability and technology in store is childrenswear retailer Petit Pli. The business, which picked up the 2022 European Start-up of the Year in Amazon’s annual UK small business innovation awards, has opened its first ever physical space at the south London site.
It is an industrial-looking store for a shopping site in keeping with its power industry past.
Petit Pli, which sells garments that can be manipulated into seven sizes so they “grow” in line with the children wearing them, has installed in-window mechanics to showcase the unique selling point of the clothing. There are also screens embedded under clothing counters to provide more product information, in a nod to the company’s e-commerce roots.
“Store designs were approved by our internal team, however brands operate their displays and screens as they wish,” explains BPSDC’s Cotton.
“We’ve given this historic landmark a new lease of life as a place to live, shop, work and play. Crucial to making this destination successful was to balance these different uses, whilst preserving as much of the original power station and its heritage as possible.”
That has been achieved by restoring the Turbine Halls while keeping them as close to the original as possible. Stores are situated in the Boiler House and Switch Houses, rather than protruding into the historic Turbine Halls, while the matching steel shop signs support the sought-after industrial feel of the development.
Cotton notes: “This layout allows the retailers maximum freedom to fit out their shops to their own brand requirements, for example through merchandise, technology and window displays, without compromising or impeding on the historic fabric of the building.”
PwC’s Tan adds: “Every single building in the community has a mix of retail, leisure, office and living spaces. It’s the future of town planning and place-making more generally.”