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At Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, thinking ahead is in our DNA. Our teams are constantly looking for new trends, evolutions and ideas. To help us gain a better understanding of new consumption patterns, and meet customers changing expectations, we teamed up with the global consumer insight company TrendWatching.(1)

Julie Villet (Group Director of URW Lab and CSR) and David Mattin (Global Head of Trends and Insights at TrendWatching) describe how this collaboration will help answer the most important question for the business: what will our customers want next?




What does innovation bring to the retail industry?


Julie Villet: My first year as Director of URW Lab made it very clear that innovation is the driver of change in the retail industry. The shift in consumer expectations and lifestyles, and the acceleration of digitisation has opened up new horizons in the way we interact with our customers. We are investigating three main dimensions: “unified retail” or how to converge the best of online and offline worlds, “personalised retail” or how to use our deep customer knowledge to offer better products and services, and “experiential retail” or how to move from the purely transactional to something that has meaning in people’s lives.

David Mattin: We at TrendWatching firmly believe that humans are motivated by a set of universal core wants and needs. To qualify as an innovation, we need something that authentically serves one of those age-old human needs in an impactful way. That is what distinguishes innovation from a gimmick or a fad. There is a welter of core human needs that the retail industry is trying to tap into. Needs like convenience that have been completely revolutionised by the Amazons of this world. Or needs like status that are all about telling a story to ourselves and to the world. Social connection is another human need that will never go away, and we see many examples of brands and businesses creating shared spaces that promote social wellness. It is those sorts of new and amazing experiences that attract people to physical retail destinations at a time when shopping online is so convenient.

JV: Our three priorities for innovation at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield are to strengthen desire (by offering mixed-use destinations that meet changing customer needs and embrace clicks to bricks for a seamless experience), impact (by building an omnichannel marketplace that harnesses the power of digital and data to generate unprecedented value for cutting-edge retailers) and agility (by leveraging new technologies to deliver operational excellence and set standards for the industry). The Group has everything it needs to lead this era of new retail: a unique portfolio of flagship assets, a strong and well-known brand, and the largest customer database of the physical retail industry. That gives us a real competitive advantage!

What role can our teams play in the “new retail” world?


DM: If, like at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, the aim is to build a real culture of innovation, that cannot be left only to top management or to a siloed-off innovation department. Instead it is necessary to build a forward-facing organisation that everyone can participate in. Becoming a trend watcher is actually no more than a simple and structured way of looking at the world around us. All employees should learn to do that, enabling them to spot trends as they emerge, think about how their area of business can address needs, and contribute to how the company responds to those trends.

JV: Great transformation and great impact can only be driven by collective intelligence and collective power. This is why we leverage a strong and agile open innovation network to accelerate our 360° digital transformation and ensure that promising ideas receive the resources they deserve. Our innovation platform, URW Lab, encourages and fosters new initiatives within the Group. The Innovation Champion Graduate Programme (ICGP), for instance, allows employees to explore a topic of interest that could potentially create value for the Group. It has led to great initiatives, from fashion upcycling to urban farming. More globally, we are fostering the development of a mindset where doing things differently and learning fast and well becomes a second nature. We’ve seen this in action with the testing of alternative shopping solutions in Sweden thanks to a pop-up store developed by Sellpy, the country’s largest second-hand e-commerce company. In Germany, for our Westfield Hamburg Überseequartier project, we signed a length of lease with the micro mobility start-up e-floater, helping customers and inhabitants to cover the last mile with a 3-wheeled kick-scooter.

What will working with TrendWatching bring?


JV: In this era of collaboration, thinking and doing it alone is no longer an option. We chose TrendWatching for its international mindset, proven record in business trends, and a shared mindset. As well as providing four reports per year, white papers and infographics, TrendWatching will tour some of the Group’s regions throughout the year, giving a series of presentations on key trends with keynote speakers. This will provide yet another opportunity for employees to share their ideas on innovation.

DM: TrendWatching can contribute to Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield by providing powerful, comprehensive and relevant snapshots of where consumerism is in 2019 and where it is heading in the years to come. Even more importantly, we will transmit a simple structured way that enables all employees to ask what the innovations signal to them about changing human expectations, and what those new expectations will mean for the Group. That is a massively powerful message – a new way of looking at the world that will spread throughout the company, transforming Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield into what we call a trend-driven innovator.


(1) Who is TrendWatching? This global B2C leader has been tracking consumer trends, insights and innovations for over ten years: https://trendwatching.com/