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Can mobile save the mall? Yes, but not how you think

Evan Schuman | Aug. 28, 2015
It's not about bringing customers into the mall. It's about giving them reasons to come all the time — and not wanting to leave.

Using mobile ads — especially personalized messages — is a commendable way to slow losses and to eek more life out of a mall. But it only works if it's a temporary measure to buy time while you prepare to deploy the real answer. And nowhere is that real answer needed more than in sparsely populated areas where people can no longer afford to make a trip to the mall an almost all-day affair.

At a practical level, all commerce is about shoppers obtaining goods or services that they want/need. (If a retail marketer is good, all "wants" will morph into perceived "needs.") And digital commerce — especially with same-day delivery — offers a wealth of purchase options (inventory), speed and convenience that no in-store facility can match.

Fortunately for retailers, shopping does in fact not exist in an emotionless practical and logical reality. It's a social interaction with friends, a fun experience, and it's entertaining. That needs to be the focus. Queue-busting, for example, is a mobile technique that makes the mall less about standing in lines. That directly improves the in-store experience.

In-store needs to leverage what it can deliver that no digital commerce site can. Associates must boost customer-service talents. Environmental controls must be superb. Bookstores need to highlight talks with authors, kitchen equipment stores must do round-the-clock demos and tastings, toy stores must offer banks of well-trained customer playmates, clothing stores must push custom-tailoring and personalized consulting, etc. Makeup demos, gift-wrapping, people helping to carry groceries around the building and to waiting cars, etc.

Malls are looking to technology to automate the sales process. That is perfectly playing into the hands of Amazon. Use technology to boost the experience. Systems, for example, that identify shoppers (courtesy of mobile signals and retail apps) as they move through the mall can signal (message?) associates of who is coming and their purchase history and personal profile. If associates are properly trained, that will translate into well-informed and highly personal interactions.

Shopping malls need not melt away. And Yates' idea of having "technologists and data scientists" on a mall's staff is a good one. But only if those coders-extraordinaire are used properly. It's not about bringing customers into the mall. It's about giving them reasons to come all the time — and not wanting to leave. Amazon is all about efficiency. Click in, get your item and one-click yourself away. A good shopping experience online is a really fast one. Malls need to be about fun and enjoyment. Otherwise, you might as well unplug your frozen yogurt machines now.


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