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Can malls be saved by data?



Westfield Labs is aiming to attract more mall traffic by making use of large displays.

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This is in response to the decline in mall visits, resulting in the closure of about 24 malls, with another 60 ready to go down the same road.

Westfield is investigating services that bring together the physical and digital worlds in an attempt to engage shoppers. ‘Smart malls’ offer free WiFi, electronic parking assistance and digital storefronts.  These new innovations offer mall owners access to huge amounts of data related to the habits of those visiting malls.  They are making use of this data to boost traffic monitoring, advertising and loyalty.

For example, free WiFi, offers mall operators the opportunity to monitor traffic.  It shows where shoppers have come from, how often they visit the mall, their length of stay and allows a method of communication by collecting basic information when they log in, such as an email address or ZIP code.  The shopping habits of the user can be accessed by checking search histories.

At Palisades Center in West Nyack, N.Y., the data is used to build profiles of shoppers and share it with potential tenants.  

The collection of data is limited however.  It is not possible for owners to distinguish between mall employees and visitors.  Malls are obtaining data, but are not obtaining any real value fr om it.

Web-based apps are being introduced and used at Taubman and Starwood Retail Partners locations, where retailers like Sephora and Express are able to offer deals by tapping into the available WiFi network.  Their offerings are shown to consumers when users open their browsers.

Retailers are able to offer information related to flash sales, custom promotions and deals specific to malls.  The main aim is to increase sales, allowing mall operators to obtain higher rents.

In Simon malls, Bluetooth-enabled iBeacon technology is used, which allows the network to contact visitors via their mobile phones once they reach the mall.

Westfield’s next step is to engage with customers before and after their shopping trip.  This will allow consumers to search for particular products and see the location of the store once they have found what they are looking for.  It will allow Westfield to follow up with the customer afterward and allow for sharing of information.

The app from Pyramid which was launched last year, allows shoppers to set text, voice, photo and GPs reminders of exactly wh ere they parked their vehicle.

Gathering data is a small part of the overall process.  Mall owners and retailers need to be able to share all the data.  The ideal would be to know when a consumer who arranged for in-store collection arrives at the mall. They can be guided to the closest parking spot and the retailer could be alerted to prepare their purchased item or to offer them a special promotion.  In the event that the purchaser is linked to a mall loyalty program, the option to have them greeted by a personal shopper exists.

Some malls already offer special features, such as Park Assist.  This guides visitors to available parking spaces by making use of overhead lights.  Signage also displays the number of available parking spaces.

More opportunities will arise for mall operators to interact with visitors and retailers.

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