In an era of declining traffic and fickle shoppers, mall owners are finally turning to technology to appeal to retailers and their customers.
Software used by malls includes mapping tools to help customers find parking, tracking tools to determine traffic levels and patterns, communications with shoppers that include notices of sales or coupons, sensors that enable optimal lighting in parking lots while also saving energy, and more, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Malls provide an opportunity to collect data for brick-and-mortar analytics that in some ways resembles Amazon’s data capabilities, some experts say, though many efforts are still untested.
Mall owners have taken pains to defend the shopping model, even as traffic has fallen and some traditional mall retailers falter.
Simon Property Group chairman/CEO David Simon in April pushed back against the widely-held notion that American malls are dying, while Taubman Centers COO Bill Taubman last month said that the biggest problem facing U.S. malls is under-performing retailers. While some destination and many class A malls seem to be thriving, others are struggling as anchors like Sears and Macy’s falter or close.
Others, including software and data companies, are also coming to malls’ rescue. They say the model is not so much doomed, but changing, in sometimes fundamental ways. After lagging when it comes to technology, mall owners are now increasingly leveraging software tools to also transform it.
Unlike the early days of North American malls, when retailers and mall owners purposely made it difficult to navigate a shopping center so that shoppers would discover more stores (and opportunities to spend money), these days that’s too much to ask. Malls today need a system for offline “search” akin to online search capabilities, according to Hongwei Liu, CEO/co-founder of Mappedin, an indoor wayfinding platform for premium North American malls.
"Today, consumers have more choice than ever, and not a lot of time. They need search in malls that that respects their time,” Liu told Retail Dive.
Liu compared Mappedin’s capabilities to a brick-and-mortar version of Amazon’s search. That comparison to Amazon is also found in the Wall Street Journal’s description of the wide variety of software tools and services available to malls, including tools to analyze foot traffic.
“We’re bringing the same analytics Amazon used to crush bricks-and-mortar retailers into the real world,” Sysorex chief marketing officer Sage Osterfeld told the Wall Street Journal.