Can Technology Save the American Mall?

  Note: For SXSW 2013, Fueled is pitching to present a panel discussion argued in support of the impact of these innovations, suggesting that shopping…

Note: For SXSW 2013, Fueled is pitching to present a panel discussion argued in support of the impact of these innovations, suggesting that shopping malls may not, ultimately, fall victim to digital innovation — but instead, be empowered by it. For more information, visit here.

Spending time comfortably relaxing with friends and family isn’t exactly the outcome of a poor economy. Whenever possible, people are putting in more man-hours in an effort to make enough money to handle their bills. Conversely, when income remains scarce, seeking bargains is hardly question — and more often than not, that leads shoppers back to the computer.

The one thing that online shopping can’t seem to replace, of course, is the human interaction element that brick-and-mortar retailers provide. Going to a mall is, to many shoppers, a social experience where people get to shop, eat, and catch up with friends or family. It also provides a great spot for people watching for those shoppers interested in catching the latest fashion trends or meeting new people.

Unfortunately, more often than not, mall shoppers find themselves lost in a multitude of people with no idea how to get to their favorite store — such a common occurrence, particularly during high seasons like Christmas time, that malls are avoided altogether. Even worse are times when shoppers can’t locate the latest sales, an experience that often discourages shoppers from leaving the comfort of their computers and the easy access to low prices they provide.

Fortunately for these retail outlets, the same technology that is trying to keep people hooked to their laptops and mobile devices is also providing malls opportunities to attract shoppers and keep them engaged. Each step of the process, from navigating the mall to paying for goods and finding the exit, is now simplified by digital technology, as trying to keep the doors of malls open has necessitated the development of products that assist shoppers.

Maps and Navigation Apps

One of the major frustrations faced by shoppers visiting malls is navigating the numerous floors of retail outlets to locate specific stores.

That’s where Google Maps comes in. Google has made improvements to its mobile mapping services and will now span the world’s shopping malls and airports. Google hopes to build on this as more airports and shopping malls submit their floor maps for incorporation. If a floor plan is included in Google’s index, the software pinpoints a user’s location with a blue dot. The user can then figure out how best to get to where their destination. The tracking technology utilizes cell towers, GPS, and publicly broadcasted wi-fi signals to achieve a level of pinpoint accuracy previously thought impossible. As a result, users experience a reduction in the agony associated with trying to find their way around these often-busy facilities.

Similarly, interactive maps — namely large touch screens located throughout malls — are being adopted by malls across the country. These devices enable shoppers to find outlets based on the kind of service they offer, including restaurants, clothing stores, and optical retailers. More often than not, they’re enabled with QR codes, which users can scan for directions to specific destinations simply through the use of their cell phones.

For example, Four Winds Interactive, a Colorado-based software company that was established in 2005, has partnered with certain shopping malls to develop such maps. The company aims to provide digital signage that involves interactive and non-interactive experiences through touch screens, barcodes, scanners, card swipes, and other input devices. The software solutions used by Four Winds Interactive combines broadcast technology, elements of content management, and PC-based kiosk interactivity.

The company‘s growing client list suggests a range of markets once-suffering in the rise of digital technology. Their work includes:

  • Meeting room signs at hotels such as Intercontinental Miami, Hilton San Francisco, and Holiday Inn San Diego.
  • Event display signs at such as Sacramento State University, Sheraton New York, and Wingham Golf Resort.
  • Video walls at outlets such as Vancouver Aquarium, Colorado Ski and Golf, and Westin Indianapolis

Customized Shopping Experience

Shoppers are social beings who thrive on social networks and social interactions. When they feel recognised and valued by retail outlets, they are more likely to return in the future, which means more business for the retailers. Shopping malls are therefore increasingly putting extra effort to welcome shoppers and give them a more personalized shopping experience. Some of the methods they are employing include:

Anonymous Video Analytics

Shoppers can now experience the VIP life, at least for a few minutes, whenever they visit a shopping mall that uses Anonymous Video Analytics. This is a series of screens that have the ability to detect whenever a shopper is looking at digital signs mounted in the malls. These digital signs can then anonymously detect the demographics of the viewer. These would include the gender and his or her age bracket. This is not only beneficial to the shoppers who obtain information that they would find interesting but also the outlets who are able to reach their target market with more of a personal touch.

Sizing Apps

Shopping for clothes at malls can be more fun than when done on the computer at home or at work, thanks to me-Ality. These are size matching kiosks allow shoppers to find their best fit while fully-clothed. A 10-second body scan identifies the fit, style, design, and cut that best matches an individual’s measurements to garment sizing specifications. This sort of technology would hardly be possible from the comfort of one’s own home as it makes the experience not only more rewarding but also enables the shoppers to have some fun as they shop.


Shopping mall experiences are even better for shoppers when they can turn to their phones for updates of sales events. That is the principle behind Shopkick. This is a mobile app introduced by Simon Property, the biggest US shopping-mall owner that alerts shoppers to promotions available from retailers. The app also shows shoppers offers available in store and goods liked by other shoppers.

Shopkick is a reward program, the big difference being that the shopper has to physically walk into a shop to earn rewards - or “kicks”. These reward points are earned immediately when a shopper walks into a participating outlets, even before they buy anything. Users need to link a debit or credit cards and use these to collect kicks on qualifying goods in store. Additional points can be earned by picking up goods and scanning their barcodes. The kicks also can be redeemed for a wide range of products including movie tickets and donations to charity.

Delay Mirror

Comqi, a multi-channel message management company headquartered in New York, aims to improves customer’s retail experience by closing the loop between digital signage, mobile, web, and social media according to a client’s outlets. Their innovations include a delay mirror, which provides fashion retailers with a unique streaming video mirror in which consumers can see how their clothing selection fits from a 360 degrees perspective or just have fun. Other fascinating innovations by Comqi include virtual mannequin, whispering windows, and holographic projection.

Mobile Payment Platforms

A rewarding shopping experience has to include fast and convenient check-out procedures, just as the Internet does. Shoppers do not like being kept waiting in line any more than being restricted to specific payment options — especially cash only. Retail outlets are aware of this and have taken steps to make payment procedure more convenient by incorporating new innovations such as mobile card readers.

Square & GoPayment

Innovative payment platforms Square and GoPayment enable literally anybody to receive payment by either debit or credit card. Better yet, using these payment methods is quite simple: A retailer signs up, receives a free card reader, and installs the corresponding app on their mobile device. The card reader is then simply plugged into the device through its headphone jack, and cards are swiped on it whenever a payment is to be made. The money they receive is available in their bank account the next business day, and the only associated charges are a minimal percentage charged on each transaction.

Google Wallet

Google Wallet is yet another convenient way to make payments. A shopper needs to add the information about their cards to the ap. This information is securely stored on their Google account online. To get started the user selects what card they would like to use to make a payment, the user then just taps the back of their phone to a payment terminal to checkout and pay with any credit or debit card. Such innovation makes shopping in-store more convenient with shoppers not needing to worry about carrying around lots of cash or several cards at a time before all they need is their smartphone.

The Numbers

Brick-and-Mortar retailers should be encouraged by statistics that show that over half of smartphone owners use their phones in retail stores to compare prices, find store locations, and check for discounts, according to a 2011 study by Chadwick Martin and iModerate Research Technologies. And more good news is on the way, according to a new study from Deloitte, which found that smartphones will increase in-store sales on retail purchases to $689 billion — about 19-percent of total store sales — by 2016, up from the current influence factor of $159 billion.

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