Believe it or not, some of the Shopping malls that once dotted the landscape of America are now buried in a blog called deadmalls.com (which probably has more Visitors than some of the actual malls today).
What caused their demise?
Rise of e-commerce, closure of anchor-stores, changing demographics, mall consolidation and huge outstanding loans – these are the usual suspects.
It turns out that fancy decor and a good location are no longer enough to attract visitors. Marketing to end consumers today is all about providing an ‘experience.’ If malls and shopping centers want to attract visitors, they’ve got to create awesome experiences — experiences visitors can’t get online. This can successfully be done by leveraging latest technologies.
Let’s look at the top 5 technologies that can offer proven benefits to the shopping mall owner – increasing return visit rates and improving the value proposition that can be offered to mall tenants.
1. Interactive Digital Signage – A New Way of Way finding
Getting from point A to point B can be frustrating, especially in larger malls. As every store tries to stand out, the interior of the building is usually a riot of color and light. This can confuse visitors trying to find one outlet out of a hundred. The traditional approach of using static signage was never a good solution, considering it takes more than a minute just to find the “You are here” arrow. In a market-type environment, where several near-identical stalls are scrunched together, the situation quickly becomes hopeless.
Digital signage offers a highly effective alternative at a reasonable cost. A few networked kiosks equipped with touch screens make the customer experience significantly easier, whether they are looking for a specific storefront or just want to know where the nearest cup of coffee can be found. When it’s not in use, the same screen can be used to dynamically display advertising or other information. Depending on the sophistication of the supplier, functions such as zooming in on part of the floorplan or viewing it in 3D are possible, making the whole experience more stimulating and useful. A technology that’s fun for visitors to use automatically has a leg up on other alternatives.
Apart from that, interactive digital signage also contributes directly to revenue generation. For example, if your mall has three stores that sell cosmetics, a prospective customer can search for a specific perfume to see which store stocks it. This makes it convenient for buyers who have a precise requirement but very little time to browse. The software of the digital signage can also be integrated with the backend of some of the mall tenants to facilitate transactions. For example – visitors can directly book an appointment at a salon in the mall, or reserve a table at a restaurant or purchase movie tickets or even schedule items for later pickup – all directly from the mall-owned digital kiosk.
2. Improved Mall Apps – Catering to the Savvy Shopper
Sadly, many bespoke apps for malls do not offer all that the customers demand. Typically, mobile apps for malls offer the same functionality as a website and this makes it unappealing to shoppers.
One of the most effective ways to improve this experience is to incorporate LBS technologies into the mall app. This can be done by installing high performing WiFi or BLE beacons at strategic locations. By doing this, customers will not be forced to memorize the route inside the mall. Unlike signages which are restricted to a few locations, LBS technologies can help customers watch their progress in real time.
Mobile apps also encourage, what is being called, “social shopping.” This is done by incorporating social media into the mall apps. Users can share reviews or photos of products they bought, or even connect with shoppers with similar interests. These are the kind of experiences a modern shopper would enjoy.
3. Analytics – Providing a Contextual Shopping Experience
The human mind is usually very good at forming a general impression based on various stimuli, but we cannot adequately integrate a huge amount of detail. That is why we have tools and technologies to gather, compile and distil data into pure management gold.
Most mall visitors today are happy to provide basic demographic data in exchange for free WiFi or personalized offers. Malls and shopping centers can collect a lot of data by having users connect to the WiFi at the mall – data such as what products a given person searches for, how much time people spend on the app and how many (and what kind of) app suggestions are acted on.
LBS technologies can reveal more about customer behavior than might be immediately apparent. Consider automatically recording how long shoppers spend loitering outside display areas, which shops are visited by the same people, and whether their visits correlate with promotional efforts. The insights gathered can be used to improve their in-store experience. Is a visitor trying to locate a particular product? If yes, then his shopping route can be optimized through indoor navigation. Has a customer who frequently spends on electronics just entered a computer retailer? An alert can instantly be sent to the store manager to provide the repeat visitor with a more welcoming experience.
Data may or may not be shared with individual retailers. Shoppers with similar characteristics and habits can be targeted in specific and adaptive marketing efforts, while trends and problem areas can be identified. Over time, it will become clear what minimum discounts are effective at drawing people in. While much of this might seem like nothing more than a fancy way of upselling, proximity marketing is actually an important component of the customer experience.
4. License Plate Scanning – Instilling a Sense of Security
An often-overlooked aspect of the total customer experience is a feeling of safety, which becomes doubly important since malls cater to families. While it may not be at the forefront of our thoughts, we are certainly anxious about what may happen to us or our loved ones.
Spending money on installing safety measures may not be on the cards immediately but providing visitors with a sense of security will definitely improve their opinion of a mall’s premises. If, on the other hand, an incident occurs and you cannot show that reasonable safeguards were in place, social media can tarnish your reputation.
A different subset of analytics analyzes CCTV footage for various purposes. One application is in number plate recognition; for example, to make sure that a parking ticket is used to enter and exit the same vehicle. Another is recognizing faces: should an incident occur, this greatly speeds up an investigation even by negative identification – telling you who was not present. Many other functions exist, such as warning CCTV operators about abandoned packages or even suspicious body language.
5. Augmented and Virtual Reality – An Exciting Add On
AR and VR are mature enough to be affordable, but still young enough to be exciting and hip. From virtual dressing rooms to furniture visualization, these technologies are finding wide application in the retail world, but how can these be used by shopping malls? What value does it add; how does it fit into the value proposition?
For one, the barrier is still high for smaller businesses, and they may benefit from a shared facility. In this case, the same headset can be used by a travel agent to show a virtual tour of an overseas destination, and by a clothing retailer to display fashion shows, and by a furniture retailer to help customers visualize a new purchase in their home.
Even if (or when) not in use for these purposes, installing a few VR booths accessible to the general public is guaranteed to draw visitors, especially during off-hours.
Use Technology to Reboot the Mall Experience
Customer experience is one of the keys to success in the retail sector from 2017 onwards, with 89% of marketing professionals expecting it to be their primary differentiator. Achieving an excellent experience that will keep customers spending is likely to require a multi-pronged approach. Certain obvious steps, like customer satisfaction surveys and spending some effort on online reputation management, will be mandatory for any B2C enterprise.
Once these low-hanging fruits have been harvested, some serious thought should be given on how to best spend any additional money. Staff training, better attention to property maintenance and conventional branding efforts are all options, but for your mall to continue appearing modern, efficient and sophisticated, implementing some kind of CX technology is sure to pay dividends.
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