What if shoppers could be rewarded for their loyalty to shopping centres? And what if shopping hubs could finally know their visitors better? Transaction Connect, a UR-Link accelerated startup, addresses those issues with its revolutionary solution, currently tested at the So Ouest Unibail-Rodamco centre. In this interview post, Didier Gasté, CEO and founder, answers our questions and explains how UR Link helped Transaction Connect.
Transaction Connect helps shopping centres implement multi-brand loyalty programmes, rewarding clients every time they shop in the mall.
What’s the main benefit of Transaction Connect for the client? And for the mall?
For the client: we turn his debit card into a loyalty card. When he/she pays with his debit card in a retail partner, the programme will recognise and reward him/her.
The solution will help shopping centres know where their clients go, how much they spend and therefore let them gain more customer knowledge to offer more relevant services to clients.
You worked at Unibail-Rodamco for several years… Did you come up with the idea for Transaction Connect there?
Yes, I worked at Unibail-Rodamco for 8 years, and I had different roles: operational marketing, strategic marketing, commercialisation,… During the 3 last years I worked for the group, I was Head of Digital. My mission was to improve customer experience before, during and after their visit in our shopping centres. Actually, the paradox of shopping centres is that they welcome millions of visitors every year, but they are less able to gather customer knowledge than brands. We tested different tools, such as indoor location technologies. But the best solution I could think about for better customer knowledge was to use our clients’ debit cards to convert them into multi-brand loyalty programmes. I came up with the idea in 2015. A European Directive made the project feasible at the end of the year, so I left my job to create my startup.
Couldn’t you develop the project internally at Unibail-Rodamco?
First of all, UR Link didn’t exist at that time.
I also needed to dedicate a lot of time and resources for that risky project. I spent 9 months to convert my initial intuition into a technically-validated product that could be launched on the market. I wouldn’t have been able to work on such a project internally, with that amount of risk.
Of course, I also really wanted to become an entrepreneur. Actually, even though Unibail-Rodamco is a group of the French CAC 40, it has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and structure. After 8 years being an intrapreneur, it was time for me to become an entrepreneur. I told myself that if the product worked, it would feel even better.
Why did you apply to UR Link?
For me, UR Link was a way to market my solution in 4 months.
The biggest asset of UR Link is that it imposes the timeframe of a startup to a large group of the CAC 40: in 4 months, Unibail-Rodamco trials projects to make sure they work. Generally, implementing pilot projects in large groups is difficult and long: internal cooperation and go-to-market phases are tedious. UR Link developed a way to launch pilots quickly and efficiently, and that’s what I loved about it.
Above all that, when I left Unibail, I knew that it would eventually be a potential client for Transaction Connect.
How is the experimentation in shopping centres going? What feedback did you get from the mall? from the retailers? from the customers?
We are experimenting at So West [in Levallois-Perret]. When a client creates his account, we automatically refund €5 on his bank account. Each time he spends €100 in the stores of the mall, he gets €5.
Both Transaction Connect and Unibail-Rodamco are very happy about the pilot project. Feedback from clients is great, they like the experience and understand the service.
What was the benefit of collaborating with the UR Link team? and with your Unibail-Rodamco mentors?
I already knew the business quite well, but I tried to play the game and to act as a service provider for the group, to make sure that the product could be handled by the teams.
The business owners were our beta consumers and helped us see whether our solution was a good fit for shopping centres and satisfied their requirements. It was great to do all this with the Unibail teams, who are particularly proactive and agile. Launching the pilot in February was actually a miracle: I owe a lot to our business owners, our sponsor – the Managing Director for the group’s shopping centres – and the teams of the So West centre. We had to integrate our solution to Unibail-Rodamco’s systems, which wasn’t easy given the time constraints.
The one-thing you would have never been able to do without UR Link?
To launch our product on February 1st in a major shopping centre – knowing that our startup was officially created on September 27th. Thanks to UR Link, we delivered a functioning product just a few months later!
What’s next, after UR Link?
We hope to scale our product in other Unibail-Rodamco centres.
We would also like to move away from a project configuration to take the time to improve our product, standardise, automate and iterate everything we learned during our different projects.
In your opinion, what will tomorrow’s shopping centres look like?
I am a firm believer that the challenge for shopping centres is to gain more customer knowledge in order to be more relevant to clients. Shopping centres have a good offer and a huge experience, but they need to develop their relationships with clients. They need to learn from online best practices to improve offline experiences.
Transaction Connect is part of the second promotion of UR Link. Applications for the third season will be open on April 3rd. If you are interested, brace yourselves!