Mall of America joins virtual reality revolution
Mall of America is using leading-edge technology to enhance the on- and offsite customer experience.
The Bloomington, Minnesota-based center is the latest retail participant to adopt virtual reality (VR) technology. A new, VR-based immersive experience allows customers to “see” retail, entertainment and live events within the mall.
The tour of the mall first transports viewers to the Sea Life indoor aquarium. Other virtual attractions include the Nickelodeon Universe indoor theme park and the JW Marriott’s Cedar + Stone restaurant. Radisson Blu hotel, and a live choir in the mall’s rotunda event space.
To view the mall’s content, users can download the Vrideo app, then use a VR device like Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear or Oculus Rift. This is the latest in a series of tech-based initiatives to help enhance customer experience at Mall of America. Recent announcements include complimentary WIFI, a mall-based virtual assistant app, and a paperless valet parking service.
“When you’re talking to someone who has never been to Mall of America before, it can be difficult to convey all of the features of our property,” said Emily Shannon, director of digital at Mall of America. “Using virtual reality, we can better communicate that we have five-star dining, a seven-acre amusement park, and miles of store fronts.”
Retailers including Lowe’s, Wayfair and Ikea have also recently released customer-facing VR tools. Mall of America is using VR more for promotional purposes and less to directly drive sales than those other retailers. However, the end goal of seamlessly engaging consumers in new and compelling ways is the same.
Study: Book retailer shows brand strength
A familiar chain has been named the most powerful retail brand of 2016.
According to the 2016 Top 100 Most Powerful Brands report from brand marketing firm Tenet Partners, Barnes & Nobile is the most powerful retail brand, and 32nd most powerful brand overall, of the year. This is the second straight year Barnes & Noble ranked highest among retailers.
The book chain received high marks for its marketing efforts, including a new slogan and creative advertising featuring Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. Barnes & Noble was also recognized for separating its Barnes & Noble Education college business from its main retail business and offsetting declining sales and growth from store closures with continued stabilization of physical book sales growth in the educational toys and gift departments.
Tenet also said Barnes & Noble’s familiarity rating is at its highest point since 2010 and although its favorability rating remained constant year-over-year, it declined 4.7 points during a six-year period.
Tenet’s Top 100 Most Powerful Brands are ranked in corresponding order by a measure of BrandPower – a single indicator of brand strength that examines a brand’s reputation in the marketplace and its ability impact business performance.
Retail is the most represented category among the Top 100 Brands, with 13 companies hailing from the category. In addition to Barnes & Noble, other retailers on the list include Target (#45), Lowe’s (#48), Walmart (#53), Gap (#55), Home Depot (#56), Bed Bath & Beyond (#61), J.C. Penney (#72), Kohl’s (#75), Best Buy (#87), Costco Wholesale (#88), Macy’s (#95), and Tiffany & Co. (#96).
However, just five out of the 13 retail brands ranked “improved” on BrandPower year-over-year: Macy’s (#95, +12), Best Buy (#87, +4), J.C. Penney (#72, +3), Walmart (#53, +2) and Costco Wholesale (#88, +2). Steepest decliners year-over-year include: Lowe’s (#48, -5), Bed, Bath & Beyond (#61, -4), Tiffany & Co. (#96, -4), Barnes & Noble (#32, -3), Gap (#55, -3), Home Depot (#56, -3), and Kohl’s (#75, -3).
Macy’s managed to move up 12 spots from 2015 and 93 spots from 2011, and earn a spot on the top 100 list, by creating special events that enhance the customer experience. The department store chain was also credited for being an early adopter of Google Wallet and Apple Pay, as well as for offering integrated store, online and mobile applications. In addition, Macy’s received kudos for adopting the Shopkick location-based marketing app.
To create the ranking, Tenet surveys participants from the top 20% of corporations in the U.S. (based on revenue) on two key metrics: familiarity and favorability. Familiarity measures awareness of the brand. Respondents are considered to be familiar with a brand if they state they know more than just the company name. Favorability measures the perception of the brand, based on how it performs across three attributes, including overall reputation, perception of management, and investment potential.
These quantitative metrics, familiarity and favorability, are then combined into a composite score called BrandPower.
GameStop goes seamless with geeky ‘loot’
Even geeks appreciate the convenience and hands-on experience of visiting a physical store.
Recognizing the continuing popularity of brick-and-mortar, specialty video game retailer GameStop Corp. has been extending its pure-play ThinkGeek banner into physical stores. GameStop purchased ThinkGeek parent company GeekNet Inc. in 2015. ThinkGeek specializes in selling “loot,” or collectible items and memorabilia, rather than video games.
“We’re really expanding past selling licensed merchandise from video game intellectual property and more into TV show and pop culture items,” said Mike Mauler, executive VP and president of GameStop International, in an interview with Chain Store Age. “We placed licensed merchandise into all GameStop stores by the end of 2014, and earned more than $300 million from the category in 2015.”
As an initial step toward opening stores, GameStop integrated ThinkGeek customers into its PowerUp rewards program.
“By demographic and location, we could identify product preferences of online customers,” said Mauler. “We could also determine which GameStop stores sold the most loot.”
Armed with this information, and satisfied by the performance of 30 initial test “Zing Pop Culture” stores in Australia, GameStop went ahead with brick-and-mortar rollout in the U.S. Using demographic and sales data, the retailer determined which ThinkGeek stores should be located inside GameStop stores and which should be separate. The retailer also determined whether separate ThinkGeek stores would be better situated inside malls and shopping centers or as stand-alone units. The first U.S. ThinkGeek location opened at The Florida Mall in Orlando in September 2015.
“We opened a total of three new ThinkGeek stores in 2015 and all did well,” said Mauler. “So far we’ve opened another two this year, and will open a total of 25-50 in 2016.”
When it comes to distribution management, GameStop recognizes the importance of the e-commerce channel to the ThinkGeek customer base.
“We look at omnichannel the same as everybody else, from mobile to Web to the store,” said Mauler. “We allow pickup of online orders in-store and will ship to home. In many markets, buy online pickup in store represents 40%-50% of online sales. Having a physical presence is a big part of omnichannel.”
Since GameStop has already been operating a seamless fulfillment process for several years, Mauler said implementing the same approach for ThinkGeek was not a major challenge. Although ThinkGeek inventory is fulfilled from a separate warehouse, it uses the same in-house-developed ERP system and Manhattan Associates supply chain and warehouse management technology used by GameStop. The in-store POS system is also proprietary. Currently ThinkGeek online and in-store purchases can be returned at GameStop stores, but GameStop items cannot be returned at ThinkGeek locations.
Mauler sees a bright future for GameStop’s new geeky offshoot.
“Licensed merchandise is our fastest-growing category,” said Mauler. “It made $300 million last year, should make $450 million – $500 million this year, and reach $1 billion by 2019.”