Simon Property Group is testing a search platform that allows shoppers to find in-stock items at participating stores within the mall before or during their visit.
The digital tool, “Simon Search,” can be used via the Simon app, a mall’s website or the interactive directory located on the property, according to a company press release.
The pilot involves 29 Simon properties. Participating retailers include Anthropologie, Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy and J.Crew, as well as Simon-owned JCPenney and Aéropostale.
Search capability is key to the efficiency and ease of shopping online. An up-to-date inventory tool like Simon Search could encourage consumers to visit malls that have in-stock items they want – but it could also prevent them from taking part in the aimless window shopping experience malls were once known for.
That could help boost traffic to malls, which has been declining for decades and has yet to recover from pre-pandemic levels. Compared to 2019, visits to indoor malls in May this year declined by 3.8%, at open-air centers declined 5.9% and at outlet malls declined 7.7%, according to research from footfall analytics firm Placer.ai.
In its most recent quarter, the mall REIT’s CEO, David Simon, said the company is agreeing to more shorter-term leases in hopes of holding out for better terms. Several retailers have edged away from indoor malls in recent years, opting for smaller footprints or more convenient strip centers.
In a statement, Simon Chief Marketing Officer Mikael Thygesen called the search tool’s enhanced inventory visibility “game changing,” citing research that found nearly 90% of shoppers would be interested in this type of capability.
"Simon Search brings new search capabilities to our retail centers, offering shoppers multiple ways to search for specific in-store merchandise," Thygesen said. "Simon is committed to providing shoppers with the most enjoyable shopping experience possible.”
Still, the efficiency made possible by Simon’s in-real-life search tool is a departure from what traditionally attracted retail tenants to malls — the throngs of more or less aimless consumers, whose here-and-there purchases added up.
In 2019, Gap’s CEO said the thinned-out crowds could no longer be counted on, and so had rendered malls the “wrong locations” for stores. The next year, the company announced the closure of 350 Gap and Banana Republic stores and a new plan where 80% of its fleet would be found at strip centers, city centers and outlets by 2023.