What have malls done for people lately? Lots.
Everyone remembers the malls of the Eighties, where teenagers congregated and where the latest names in fashion could be found in one amazingly convenient location. This phenomenon was once relevant and innovative, but innovation is fleeting by nature. How have malls changed the ways they connect with customers make the mall experience still worth their while?
The heartening response is, “in many ways.” In-person shopping has transformed itself to compete with the Web by playing to its strength with new sets of benefits. From offering yoga classes in mall common areas and app-driven parking options to replacing outdated anchor stores with gyms or popular restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, today’s amplified brick-and-mortar experience is focused on catering to consumer preferences.
Changing the space
Westfield Labs is rethinking the way people traditionally use malls with a project called Bespoke, which allows some space in malls for co-working, events, and demonstrations. The idea is to allow traditional online companies the chance to try out brick-and-mortar in a safe space, and it looks promising. Westfield is also in the midst of transforming the food court of yesteryear and with a pilot for a web-based food ordering service that allows local residents and office workers to get delivery from the mall.
Added convenience for shoppers can be simpler than one might initially imagine. General Growth Properties includes in its app one of the most frequently called-upon services in the mall: the directory. It guides shoppers to stores with in-mall navigation and contains information about events as well as places to park before arrival and personalized parking reminders when onsite at the property.
The Internet at every shopper’s fingertips, so malls have to up the ante to compete. Department stores like Nordstrom have included incentives like free shipping and free returns, positioning returns kiosks at the front of stores as an incentive to woo customers back to brick-and-mortar. In addition to being convenient, this increases the likelihood that consumers might purchase something while in the store.
Wi-Fi has quickly moved from being an amenity, when shoppers were wowed by free Wi-Fi access, to a utility. It’s now a must-have and needs to be treated as such. Requiring shoppers to watch an ad before granting access to a Wi-Fi network is akin to making someone watch an ad before they flip on the light switch in a hotel room. Yes, some nominal amount of incremental revenue may be generated for the mall owner, but be aware that shoppers in the Age of Free consider it a negative experience.
Great examples arise, however, of technology-integrated shopping experiences. Rebecca Minkoff’s “connected glass shopping wall” guides shoppers through their experience, allowing them to do everything from adjusting lighting to questioning sales associates — who are updated via RFID tags as to what’s in the fitting rooms and can fetch similar items. In the digitally connected store, the shopper can see if a particular size or color is available on the premises, and if it is not, they can get the items shipped directly to their homes. Inspired brick-and-mortar retailers enhance customer engagement with integrated omnichannel strategies.
In the malls and centers, however, smart retailers gain an edge by constantly endeavoring to deliver personalized shopper experiences. Giving people the ability to shop for a Tesla in an in-mall showroom allows the brand to separate itself from competitors sequestered in traditional auto-showroom dealerships. Some outdoor malls are offering things that a consumer just can’t get online — like outdoor cooking classes — making them, once again, a gathering place for the community.
While many mall developers are employing digital technology to gather information and become smarter about shoppers and their behavior, they also strive to use it to enhance the consumer experience. There is still much to learn about using loyalty programs as data-gathering devices. The question will be how to create real value for the consumer so they are willing to share their personal information and preferences.
Ultimately, incentives for sharing information combined with the ease of sharing it — possibly via social media — will help increase shoppers’ motivational and comfort levels. As mobile devices continue to gain favor as vehicles for value exchange between retailer and consumer, the integration of mobile and omnichannel strategies should increasingly reduce the friction between those connections as well.
Allan Haims, president and CEO of StepsAway, is the former President of WetSeal and SVP of Disney Stores, Worldwide.
Dollar General in 41-store acquisition
Dollar General has purchased 41 former Walmart Express locations across 11 states in a move designed to allow the discounter to expand its fresh meat and produce offerings.
Dollar General said it expects to relocate 40 existing Dollar General stores into the purchased sites by October 2016. It will also enter one new market.
Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
“Dollar General is excited to add these locations to our existing store base. We look forward to the opportunity to better serve our customers in these communities by continuing to provide the convenience and value they expect from Dollar General,” said Todd Vasos, CEO, Dollar General, which operates 12, 719 stores in 43 states.
The stores will feature Dollar General’s updated “DG16 layout” with additional sales floor square feet, complete with expanded offerings such as fresh meat and produce. Dollar General also intends to operate the fueling stations in 37 of the 41 locations.
Report: Walgreens’ Honolulu flagship back on market
Walgreens' flagship Hawaii store in Honolulu is back on the market, months after a Los Angeles-based investment bank and wealth management firm paid $54 million to buy the property, the Pacific Business Journal reported.
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