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A ‘smart’ way to optimize parking, drive ROI and elevate customer experience

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Austria-based SKIDATA is reckoned as the global market leader in access solutions and visitor management, offering a broad range of innovative, customized systems enabling swift and secure access for people and vehicles to malls, shopping centers, airports, cities, stadiums, amusement parks and ski regions around the world. The company entered India about 10 years ago and has grown to become a foremost parking technology partner to many well-known malls, shopping centers and real estate development companies across the country.

A ‘smart’ way to optimize parking, drive ROI and elevate customer experience
Hassle-free parking experience is of key importance to a shopper

In a candid conversation with Indiaretailing.com, Managing Director of , talked at length about the company’s Indian operations, business portfolio and installations, latest trends in parking systems, etc. He also discusses the costs aspect of parking operations and explains why ‘free parking’ model is not feasible or prudent for malls, shopping centres operators, and even the shoppers.

Brief us on your company and also shed light on its Indian presence.

Headquartered in Austria, SKIDATA is the market leader in access and ticketing systems for parking, ski and event applications. The company is the leading providers of access solutions and visitor management worldwide. More than 10,000 SKIDATA systems guarantee quick and secure access for people and vehicles in shopping centers, major airports, cities, sport stadiums, fairs and amusement parks and ski regions. Founded in 1977, this year marks the 40th anniversary of SKIDATA’s existence.

SKIDATA is the leading parking technology partner to shopping malls, both in India and overseas. The solutions ensure smooth parking operations with hassle-free revenue reporting and audit. SKIDATA provides necessary training to the car park operator/ manpower agency chosen by the mall management to run the parking lot. In the last 10 years of Indian operations, we have established ourselves as the preferred partner for shopping centers and real estate development companies with all the major players as customers, including VR Malls, Brigade Group, Express Avenue Mall in South; DLF Malls, Unity Group Malls in North; Inorbit Malls, Oberoi Mall, Growels101 Mall, Metro Junction Mall in West; and Merlin Acropolis Mall in East.

A ‘smart’ way to optimize parking, drive ROI and elevate customer experiencePlease describe your range of parking services and solutions for malls and shopping centres. How do they help in managing customer traffic, security and safety, and other operational aspects of a parking lot?

SKIDATA portfolio is designed to ensure that customers who drive into the parking lot have the best experience they can, to ensure that they revisit that parking lot more often. Furthermore, our solutions help the landlords and the operations team to maximize their returns on the investment made in the parking lot. The offerings include:
a) Consultancy for planning and designing parking garages
b) Parking Management Systems
c) Parking Guidance Systems
d) Intelligent LED Lighting System
e) Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

The right technology solution along with the right traffic flow planning in the parking environment ensures the car parking operation is smooth and the customer experience is hassle-free. The technology ensures that customers can enter and exit the car park with little or no excess stoppage, use of multiple data carriers as options (mobile phones, RFID cards, license plate recognition, bar-coded tickets, etc.) smooth traffic flow – all of this for the customer along with maximizing profits for the landlord and minimal revenue leakage and pilferage.

SKIDATA parking equipment and software capture every event in auditable reports. The system sends alerts regarding any issues during day to day operations to the relevant stakeholder. SKIDATA India has largest qualified service team in the country to provide regular maintenance service to clients throughout the country.

What is the latest in technology/equipment in mall parking system these days?

Trends in the parking systems can be found in two streams – Customer Convenience and Customer Facing to ensure maximum convenience and the second is more from the back-end to ensure that the landlord and the operations team can be as efficient as possible to maximize returns from the parking lot.

Two major Customer Convenience trends have been found worldwide and these both will have a dramatic impact on how we do parking management in shopping malls – The first is seen as Ticketless Parking which was pioneered by SKIDATA and Westfield Retail in Australia. Customers drive in and out of the shopping centers without ever having to stop and take a ticket or stop to pay for parking. This is done seamlessly with license plate recognition in conjunction with the city to have customers pay for parking directly with their stored credit card or through direct payment from the bank accounts. The second major trend is seen closer to the home where parking applications are available to customers as seen in Smart Cities solutions where customers can see the number of parking bays available in real time, reserve a parking space now or in the future and pay for this all through their mobile phones. As the penetration of smart phones in India is quite high, we believe this trend to continue to grow and flourish in India and other developing markets.

The trends in operations are seen more from the support side. Today, only the leading parking solutions companies are able to give proactive support to their customers. SKIDATA has already introduced this feature free of charge to its customers so that it can provide proactive service; react to other problems remotely and quickly as to minimize downtime and first-time resolutions. This is an industry-leading offering which no company has been able to offer in India. SKIDATA has also created a monitoring center which can monitor the installations throughout the country from a single location and resolve most first-level problems remotely. Customers who sign up for this service can benefit largely from this solution.

According to many malls operators, providing a good parking facility is a major business expense and ‘pay to park’ model is the only viable option. Could you give us a sense of the type of costs that are involved in creating a safe, hassle-free parking environment for shoppers?

Hassle-free parking experience is of key importance to a shopper. All shopping malls would like to have repeat loyal customers and increase the overall footfalls by providing a good parking experience.

But this experience comes at a cost for the shopping center. Below are a few major cost centers:
a) Infrastructure costs (Lights, Ventilation fans, Road furniture, etc)
b) Technology investment in parking management to offer world-class service
c) Manpower
d) Operating and maintenance costs
e) Security to ensure that the cars are safe in the environment they park in

There is definitely a cost that the shopping mall is investing to provide a premium parking experience to its customers. If shoppers are expecting to have this enhanced parking experience instead of parking on the street every single time they visit a shopping mall, they should not have a problem in paying for this parking service.

A ‘smart’ way to optimize parking, drive ROI and elevate customer experienceBut the counter argument could be that free parking provides a ‘feel good’ factor to the customers and may help boost the customer footfall. What is your view on this?

There is no doubt that if mall parking is free it shall be a ‘feel good’ factor, but there is a lot more thought that needs to be put into understanding this. Shopping malls today are an experience zone that offers lots of reasons for a customer to visit and spend time. But on the other hand, it offers a place for people to come and hang around for a while and sometimes a whole day.

It is important for shopping malls to have footfalls but even more important is to have quality footfalls which provide revenue for its tenants. The shopping center is obligated to give these quality customers who visit the shopping mall to transact and purchase, an excellent level of service and convenience from all aspects of the shopping center and this includes parking. Parking and other services which are offered by the shopping center can be offered free to these customers as they are the ones which the shopping center wants to attract. The non-shoppers need to pay for their parking as they are not transacting in the malls and are consuming valuable resources like real-estate in the parking lot which they should pay for.

A quality customer comes regularly to a shopping mall, spends around 2-3 hours, and typically does not mind paying for parking. At the same time, that same customer can be made to feel special if the parking fee is waived for him or her. It tells the customer that we value his/ her time spent at the shopping mall and appreciate their business. These rewards can be passed on to the customer via validations/vouchers of free parking or through other means like car spas. This helps retailers and shopping malls build a stronger loyal customer base.

Do you think that a coherent fee structure based on some common denominators can be arrived at for malls across the country or at least within the states? Is uniform, nominal paid parking model workable?

Every shopping mall has a unique offering and has a target audience depending on the location of the shopping mall. As each location i.e. state, city in fact even different areas within a city, offer a different experience. Shopping malls need to adapt, adopt and apply different strategies to attract their target audience. Be it from choosing the right retailers to having correct parking tariff, as this will directly impact on shopping mall’s success.

These parameters play a big role for mall management team in decision making and even those at times have to be dynamic. Feasibility of a fixed uniform charge across the city/state is not, in our opinion, feasible or considered a correct practice as it may present a lot more challenges than the problems it solves.