Westfield Labs displays digital, physical vision

Ultra high definition displays installed at the Westfield Garden State Plaza mall produce stunning images, engage shoppers and serve as a reminder why retail pundits are wrong who say, “the mall is dead.”

Westfield created what it calls “digital storefronts” at the expansive mall in Paramus, N.J., consisting of a two sided wall with three four foot wide by seven foot tall screens adjacent to one another on each side. The undertaking is the latest initiative from Westfield Labs and is intended to bring the best of online technology to the physical world and offer mall visitors an interactive display of products and a discovery experience that can’t be matched by a smartphone or tablet. Shoppers are able to scroll, zoom and rotate through curate assortments of products displayed in ultra-high definition imagery due to the use of 4K digital screens. If shoppers find a product they like the digital storefront displays a map of exactly where products are located in the two level mall.

“Digital has become more than an overlay to the business, it is an integral part of the business,” said Erik Kokkonen, SVP of product management with Westfield Labs. “We are taking a digital first approach with how we are innovating and invigorating the centers.”

Both phenomenon were evident as soon as the digital storefronts went live last month at Garden State Plaza.
“Younger shoppers were fearless about engaging with the digital storefronts,” Kokkonen said. “When you see the first users go up and begin interacting with the digital storefronts it is like magic.”

In a sense, the digital storefronts are like oversize iPads and feature similar intuitive functionality which helps explain why younger shoppers who have grown up with all manner of digital technology quickly embraced the concept. Older shoppers were more measured in their response, Kokkonen noted. They tended to stand at a distance observe others before approaching the large screens. To help shoppers with the discovery process, Westfield had digital ambassadors on hand to help apprehensive shoppers begin the discovery process.

The pilot program is the latest initiative to come from the labs group created in 2012 that Kokkonen said was tasked with the ambitious goal of transforming the mall experience. To that end, the first initiative out of the group came last fall when Westfield Labs worked with eBay on a pilot program involving digital storefronts for Sony, TOMS shoes and Rebecca Minkoff fashions and accessories. More than 100 products from the three brands were “merchandised” in three windows on the fourth floor of the Westfield San Francisco Centre from late November through early January. Akin to a digital pop-up store, the displays allowed shoppers to touch the glass and begin shopping. After selecting items they were able to initiate payment by pushing the order to their mobile phone, pay securely with PayPal and arrange for delivery or pick-up.

“At Westfield Labs, we want to define what the future of retail will look like through social, mobile and digital innovations,” Kevin McKenzie, Westfield’s global chief digital officer said when the pilot was announced last fall. “For our first pilot, we are excited to partner with eBay Inc. and brands that are pushing the boundaries of online and offline retail to showcase new technology that redefines shopping. This is just a window into the types of technologies Westfield Labs will be launching in our international markets to provide people with memorable shopping experiences.”

Another new innovation coming soon to Westfield’s flagship property in San Francisco involves an app that allows mall visitors to pre-order food. Kokkonen wasn’t at liberty to share specifics about the service, however several large signs throughout the mall suggest a launch is imminent and explained to shoppers the value proposition of, “eat well, on time: convenient food ordering from your desktop and mobile device.”

The service is likely be a hit considering the mall’s location at 865 Market Street in downtown San Francisco affords restaurant tenants access to a base of time sensitive downtown workers, many of whom have a connection to the technology world and are among the earliest of the early adopters.

The mall also happens to be the location of Westfield Labs which affords Kokkonen and other members of his team who are looking to reinvent the mall experience with a unique vantage point. Unlike other retailers who have established labs in office parks throughout the San Francisco and Silicon Valley area, Westfield Labs is immersed in the physical retail environment. The Labs office occupies a space on an upper level within the mall with windows looking out on a large atrium, store fronts and shoppers moving among the levels via escalator. It makes for an ideal location in an ideal city from which to focus on innovative solutions that integrate physical and digital aspects of retail to ensure malls remain relevant to shoppers.

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