Fintech is changing the way people borrow, invest and pay for things. But there’s another type of technology — most noticeably in China — that’s altering the way urban dwellers interact with their living and shopping environments. It’s property technology, or proptech — the use of new technologies like big data and machine learning to help individuals and companies buy, sell and manage real estate.
According to Jones Lang LaSalle Inc, investment into proptech startups from 2013 to 2017 totalled $7.8 billion, with China accounting for about 36 per cent of that. In 2018, that figure came to almost $20 billion, data from market research firm Venture Scanner show.
“In China, there is a very dynamic proptech ecosystem, quite mature and advanced at all levels,” Jones Lang LaSalle’s Asia Chief Executive Officer Anthony Couse said at the firm’s first-ever proptech forum in Beijing in May. “Some say we’re slow moving, conservative,” he said, referring to the real-estate industry. “I don’t think that applies to us here in China.”
One oft-cited reason for China’s proptech leadership is that the country tends to put more emphasis on convenience than privacy. That makes it easier for property companies to use transaction databases, facial-recognition cameras and other technology to improve people’s shopping and living experiences, though developers still have to be mindful how they access and use personal data to avoid allegations of overreach. Here’s a snapshot of some of the ways that Chinese developers are using the internet of things, artificial intelligence and big data to improve people’s living and shopping experiences:
Cooking with gas
Dalian Wanda Group upgraded its property management platforms at two Wanda Plazas by installing cameras that use behaviour-recognition technology to track shoppers’ movements inside the mall, such as how long a person lingers in a store and whether they walk out with a bag in their hand. The technology, from Wanda’s Huiyun management system, allows the group to capture and analyse a person’s age, gender and shopping patterns, letting the landlord better optimise merchant layouts.
Shoppers don’t know it, but they’re also assigned a computerised ID so they’re recognised upon their next visit. Sensitive information, including people’s facial images, isn’t stored to prevent the risk of personal privacy infringement issues and potential legal disputes, the company says.
The Huiyun technology now tracks conditions in about 280 Wanda Plazas across China, using more than 10,000 sensors in each of them. The sensors also detect heat and moisture levels, air quality and energy consumption. They’re able to compare signals from a cook and the range hood in a restaurant, for example, and flash alerts when a stove is left unattended without being switched off.
Feeding the fish
Putting sensors around its residential communities has allowed Long for Group Holdings to shift away from a labour-heavy property management system. Developed by the Beijing-based home builder’s service arm using internet-of-things technology, the system has trimmed labour costs on facilities maintenance by as much as 62 per cent.
Some 480,000 facilities with sensors at developments nationwide capture data and send it to a central processing facility. The information can range from lower apartment floors being soaked by summer storms, to an elevator being out of order, or a man-hole cover shifting and potentially endangering passers-by. If enough data creates a warning, alerts are sent out to maintenance workers in the field who can pick up the job, similar to Uber drivers accepting a booking. Where manual adjustment isn’t required, automation kicks in.
Using facial recognition technology, Shui On Land started to use an app called “INNO” for access control in its Shanghai office buildings. A surprising finding emerged at one city-centre tower: 70 per cent of workers were female. So Shui On renovated one of its shopping malls below this office area, tailoring an entire five floors just for women. To further attract female shoppers, Shui On uses big data for distributing coupons and mall maps. First-time visitors can enter their mobile number at a fourth-floor screen to link to their WeChat account, giving Shui On access to their buying habits on Tencent Holdings, WeChat’s parent company. The whole process is pared with facial recognition technology, so second-time visitors need only to stand still in front of the screen.