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What does the future hold for the traditional mall?

Posted by Mark Kalkwarf on 27 April 2014 in: mobile, marketing, bleeding edge, business intelligence

The hard truth is that 21st century malls need to adapt, or die. The retail environment has always been competitive, but over the past decade, it’s become even more so, as digital has woven itself into the fabric of our lives (and our wallets). E-commerce is here, and it is here to stay. While some may find this daunting, digital technology actually brings with it huge opportunities for traditional malls.

What does the future hold for the traditional mall?

Here are 4 ways that physical malls can use digital technology to their advantage:

Death of a salesman

In years gone by, you would go to a specific store hoping to glean expert advice from the sales assistant. If you were lucky, you’d get good, objective advice… an honest opinion of the product. Today, you can get 1000 objective opinions at the click of a button, all from the comfort of your couch.

Now, the trick is for offline retailers to tap into this discourse and use it to their advantage. For instance, Joe is in the market for a new pair of running shoes. As he approaches the Nike shelf (where the retailer has placed an iBeacon), the app on his mobile will ping, sending Joe customer reviews, professional opinions, colour options, availability… everything he could possibly want to know, all within a foot of the point of sale. To close the deal he could also receive a digital voucher to be redeemed right there and then.

iBeacon is a great example of software that uses proximity as it’s mechanism. It is this type of technology which is ideally suited to the mall environment. Passive window-shopping can quickly turn into active shopping when you’re incentivized on the spot with a digital voucher!

Up close and personal

Way back, your shopkeeper knew you by name. He knew which cut of beef you preferred. He knew your favourite brand of tea. With the growth of the mall, things became somewhat impersonal. With that, good old-fashioned customer service fell away. It may seem ironic, but with the help of digital innovation we’ll be taking a step back to really get to know our customers. Through mobile applications, we’ll be able to learn what a customer is looking for, when they are looking for it, and where to look for it. Context is key, as it will allow retailers to provide the ultimate customer service by giving the most relevant advice, at the right time, in the right place. This technology essentially lets you tap into Joe’s decision-making process, providing him with the relevant Nike product information, current deals and discounts - every piece of persuasion he needs to buy those sneakers.

Bye bye mall rats. Hello net rats.

​The favourite past time of yesterday’s teenagers was to meet at the mall. Not necessarily to go shopping. Perhaps to get a soda. But most importantly, to see their friends and socializ​e. Today, they’re doing exactly the same thing, while lounging with their feet on the couch. Social media is so prevalent, it’s hard to conceive of a world where it doesn’t exist. Now while the convenience of this digital world has lured the youth out of the mall, social media could become a powerful weapon in getting them to return. For instance, the application on your phone might pick up that you haven’t been to the mall lately. From taking a look at your Facebook profile, it will see that it’s your mom’s birthday next week. Bingo. Next thing, you receive a friendly birthday reminder from your neighbourhood mall, together with suggestions for the perfect gift, and by the way, here is a digital voucher you can redeem in store for your mom’s favourite brand of perfume.

A step up in space management

We’ve always known that foot traffic analytics are important – which shops to put where, how and why to enhance every shoppers’ experience. With the use of digital applications, the science of space management is taken to a whole new level. Equipped with the power to track the exact path of an individual through the mall, how long they spent in each store, what information they looked up while they were there and where they went next, you could analyse not only a customer’s physical path, but their decision-making process too. These insights are invaluable to any retailer. As technology forges ahead, many companies are scrambling to keep up. These days, everyone’s building applications. But th​e problem is, many of these are one sided in nature. They dish out information with little thought to context and relevance. With new technology, the conversation is becoming two-sided; and that’s where you really start enhancing the shopper’s experience. When you understand their habits and give them what they want, when they want it. When you understand that it’s not about gadgets, but rather about human nature. That’s when the 21st century mall will redefine itself in the eyes of the consumer.

Contributed by Mark Kalkwarf and Denzil Morrison​

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