Next Generation Leaders: Melissa Prpic


The Frank Lowy Fellowship is an industry initiative of the Shopping Centre Council of Australia that is proudly supported by Scentre Group. Now in its sixth year, the fellowship was established in recognition of the contribution made by Sir Frank Lowy AC to the Australian shopping centre industry.

In this special feature (published in SCN‘s CBD Guns edition), we showcase the talent of six past fellowship winners and nominees who have demonstrated excellence in their field and celebrate them as next-generation leaders, collaborators and innovative thinkers whom will ensure Australia’s shopping centre industry continues to be a world leader.

What do you love most about the shopping centre industry?
No two days are ever the same. For me, the constant changes in customer expectations and the ever-evolving retail landscape means there is not a more exciting industry to be in. The good, bad and ugly can all happen in a day, but it is the passionate people, the amazing team I get to work with and the challenges that keep me wedded to the shopping centre industry.

How have you adapted to the changing retail landscape?
The impact of COVID-19 on people, culture and business has been deep and far reaching. Even before the pandemic several factors were impacting our industry: retail duplication in markets, limited new-to-market entrants, increasing competition from online and slowing household retail expenditure growth. For our retail businesses, COVID-19 accelerated the headwinds we were already navigating. During the past two years, the consumer landscape has seen more technological and digital change than the preceding ten years. For me and for my team, understanding, adapting and responding quickly to these changes and shifts in customer expectations has been a key learning and challenge. Along the way it has reaffirmed that in a rapidly evolving retail landscape,being agile is key to staying ahead of the curve alongside a deep understanding of and an ability to truly listen to our customers.
Customising experiences and driving new reasons for customer visitation has been another key focus of our team, one of my favourite examples is Studio MC. Launched in June 2021, our marketing team at Melbourne Central introduced Studio MC – the first ever, custom built podcast studio hosted within an Australian shopping centre. Studio MC was a bold and confident response in the face of the ongoing challenge of pandemic restrictions in Victoria, with Melbourne CBD foot traffic impacted by the lack of office workers and students.Across a four week campaign, Studio MC provided compelling reasons for customers to return each week,providing a key point of difference to online and local retail experiences. The entire Studio MC concept flipped the script on the traditional podcast model. A virtual experience became an in real life experience at MC – it was compelling, it was new and it was interactive. Delivering convenience and ease of access to our assets has never been more important. We have quickly learned that customers now demand convenience and through the pandemic, have increased consumption of both home delivery and online services alike. We created a bespoke delivery service Retail Runner – GPT’s response to both addressing customer convenience and the need for trusted delivery solutions, as well as providing additional retailer support to drive market share and sales. Customers can order products through the Retail Runner Marketplace or the retailer’s website and order fulfilment is completed through Click & Collect at the centre or delivered to the customer’s door. As we have had to adapt and change, so have our retailers and actively driving our retailer partnerships, sharing data and insights is a key focus in addressing changes in shopper behaviour. We are using data and key learnings to assist in driving the productivity and performance of our retailers stores’ across the GPT portfolio.

How have you applied technology to deliver better outcomes for your business and customers?
Navigating the complex world of data and technology has and continues to be an innovative and rewarding experience for me and GPT. With a wealth of customer and retailer data at our fingertips, distilling the value in complex data sets and understanding new technologies and how they can be used in various ‘non-traditional’ways is key to creating business value. Being responsible for both the digital and marketing functions for our retail business enables me to build a collaborative culture that encourages the team to think differently, be agile and test and trial new technologies.

With 81% of all shopping starting online, regardless of where it ends, being part of the consideration set is only going to get harder. Understanding our customers’ motivations, needs and wants, how they want to engage with us and in what channels, is important to ensuring we are top of mind in the consideration set of our customers.
Over 18 months ago we launched The Hive, our bespoke customer data platform that unifies previously distinct data sources within our customer database of 1.3 million members to evolve our digital and data capabilities and drive customer insights both digitally and in our physical assets. Enriched with psychographic and market share data, the platform creates a single 360-degree view of the customer behaviour across digital platforms, trackable customer centre visitation data and frequently visited in-centre zones, and NPS & Sentiment.

During the past two years, we have been using AI and machine learning to enhance our customer sentiment and analysis tools. This gave us an idea to use the same technology but in the marketing campaign sphere.Converting a commuter into a customer at Melbourne Central is an ongoing opportunity. However, if we could analyse past campaigns, multiple data sources and results, machine learning/AI could help to tell us what types of campaigns, activations or incentives would be best applied to convert commuter traffic into shoppers and create a ‘Next Best Campaign Model’.
We built the model using two years of campaign data and metrics, as well as a multitude of data sources including: sales and traffic, Wi-Fi data and market share data. The model achieved 90% accuracy when it came to identifying which campaigns would drive a conversion of commuter behaviour into a shopper/ transactionalaction, as well as increasing dwell time in the centre.

As consumer preferences change, how can shopping centres adapt to stay relevant?
When I think about my experience as a shopper, the range of retail stores is high on my list as a reason to visit, as well as how quickly I can fi nd what I want, where to park and tick off my mental list. But on the occasions that Ihave time, I want an escape, something that is unique and captivates my attention, is tailored to when I want‘me’ time or if I need to keep the kids occupied on a rainy day , and this experiential, ever evolving retail and lifestyle environment is what our customers are also craving from our centres. One of the biggest challenges for our industry is liquid expectations, which refers to the idea that customer experiences are fluid across industries and that every time you engage with a product or service, you’ll enjoy a positive and seamless experience. No longer do we just compete against a local strip mall or international retail experiences, we are now also competing against streaming services, experiences across other industries, transaction and non-financial experiences. These experiences all play a role in developing the idea of what a great experience is in the mind of the customer.
What do you think will be the next phase of change in the Australian shopping centre industry?

The themes at the front of my mind for the next phase of change in the Australian shopping centre industry are connection, convenience and digital – not new but working our way through the pandemic has put a bigger focus on and accelerated these themes. The importance of connection, connecting with local community and small business, along with the value of time and convenience has taken on a whole new meaning, driven partly by the speeding up of digital adaptation, but also because of the consumers reliance on it. The shopping centre industry will need to lean into these themes head on to address the changing needs and wants of both our retailers and our customers.