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Mall of America puts in Wi-Fi to drive in-venue experiences

NEW YORK – A Mall of America executive at the NRF 103rd Annual Convention & Expo Sunday revealed that the 4.2 million-square-foot venue will roll out free Wi-Fi this year, signaling the growing role that showrooming plays in the consumer experience.

The move will position Mall of America to compete with shopping malls, retailers and public spaces across the United States, which already offer Wi-Fi. As storefronts shrink in size, retailers are reinventing themselves as showrooms, with much of their merchandise available online.

“We are creating showrooms so retailers have a chance to showcase their products,” said Jill Renslow, vice president, business development and marketing at Mall of America, Bloomington, MN. “The idea is that [showrooming] is here – and it is here to stay.”

“We also are changing our model to respond to that, to drive consumers to the space and to create memomorable experiences,” she said.

Another reason to shop
Ms. Renslow leaked the news about free Wi-Fi coming to the Mall of America during a breakout session at NRF called “Is Responsive Design Part of Your Mobile Strategy?”

Mall of America already provides consumers with numerous reasons to visit the venue. Tourists come to see its vast size an ride the ferris wheel at Nickolodean Universe. Teens head there to watch movies, while techies hang out the mall’s Apple store.

Consumers eat their meals at the mall’s food court and seniors stroll along the malls seemingly endless walkways for exercise.

This week the Mall of America blog, on its Web site, offers the chance to watch a second, undisclosed title movie for free to consumers who first purchase tickets for and watch the “Trailer Trash” movie on Jan. 16.

But entertainment, events, giveaways, shopping and movies are no longer enough to ensure consumers will shop at any venue.

Mall of America’s mobile Web site

Bring your own smartphone

Nowadays smartphones are consumers’ shopping companions, with 84 percent of shoppers using their devices to shop while in-store, according to Cuker Interactive.

Mall of America has a responsive design Web site, which enables it to update content frequently.

The mall’s mobile Web site enables it to target smartphone users and offer promotions.

Free Wi-Fi most likely will bring more consumers into the Mall of America.

Geo-location data shows that proximity is very important. If a consumer goes to a mall it is most likely that the consumer will shop and make a purchase.

At present there are 113 shopping malls with free Wi-Fi listed on the Open WiFi Spots application, which is not a comprehensive list of all United States free Wi-Fi malls.

According to Ms. Renslow,  Mall of America plans to have free Wi-Fi up and running by the holidays, if not before.

Wi-Fi is a must-have for all retailers.

“One of the single biggest challenges that malls face on this front is that many don’t currently have a direct relationship with any of their customers,” said Christian Gunning, communications luminary at Boingo Wireless, Los Angeles. “Much like an airport, there are countless customers who pass through their facility about whom they know almost nothing.

Mr. Gunning was not on the NRF panel. He commented based on his expertise on the subject.

“Customers have a relationship with the individual stores they shop in in the same way that passengers have relationships with the airlines but not the airport, itself,” he said. “In that context, Wi-Fi becomes a central contact point where a mall can engage with customers both directly and indirectly.

“The splash page on the front of the Wi-Fi network can become a key interaction point, and some malls use this as a way to drive signups to their affinity programs, like frequent shopper rewards. This helps them collect key demographic data about their customers, and helps them better refine their offerings for all shoppers as a result.”

Final Take
Kari Jensen is staff writer at Mobile Commerce Daily, New York