Bridging the brick-and-mortar and digital worlds, Simon Property Group and eBay Inc. have started to collaborate on creating technologies that spur traffic and improve the shopping experience in malls.
The first, already being tested in the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif., is called the ‘‘Connected Mall.” It’s an interactive directory designed to make it easier to find the best routes to shops, restaurants and services and learn about events and discounts. The Connected Mall is a six-foot LCD with a high-definition, all-weather touch screen that provides 3-D maps and coupons. By typing their phone number on the screen, shoppers get the information pushed onto their mobile phone, and a “today” button highlights events and deals happening that day.
The Stanford center has four of the units, which are double-sided and in high-traffic common areas. They’re being tested for a possible rollout to other malls. “Simon and the Retail Innovation Division of eBay Inc. have been working on an exclusive basis in the mall space to enhance the shopping experience and provide retailers with a new and compelling way to engage shoppers,” said Mikael Thygesen, Simon’s chief marketing officer.
“What we have seen [with the Connected Mall] is that, when one person is using the kiosk, it attracts people who gather behind them to watch because they’re intrigued,” said Thygesen. “People realize [the kiosks] are double-sided, and they pop around to the other side…to try it out. The units went live just before Thanksgiving. We’ve already had 40,000 unique interactions, and 17,000 routes have been mapped.”
Regarding a rollout, Thygesen said, “It’s too early to tell because they’ve been in market for less than a month, but we are very encouraged by the shopper feedback we’ve already received and the level of shopper engagement. After the holidays, we will sit down with eBay and determine next steps.” He said displaying maps in 3-D provides “a richer and more robust user experience. The 3-D contours of individual stores make it easier to see your path and understand your directions. You can also rotate the map and move it up and down, so it’s positioned from where you are.”
Information is transferred to mobile phones from the kiosk through a prompt to enter one’s mobile phone number. The prompt appears when the user is on the screen that maps out directions, and the information is received via a text message, with a link that opens to the image of the target route. What’s seen on the big screen appears in a smaller version on the mobile phone. Also with one touch, the menu listing can be lowered to be accessible to anyone in a wheelchair.
Aside from Simon, eBay in the past has partnered with Kate Spade on interactive windows and one-hour deliveries; Westfield Corp. on digital storefronts for Sony, Rebecca Minkoff and Tom’s; and Nordstrom on fitting-room technology, according to Healey Cypher, head of retail innovation at eBay.
Cypher described the Connected Mall as being waterproof, scratch-proof, bulletproof, graffiti-resistant and self-cooling. The key to any new technology is that “it can’t feel like a gimmick,” he said. “It has to be a utility, and it should be magical — meaning it doesn’t break or go out or crash.” Cypher called traditional directories in malls “an awful, confusing user experience, with too much friction” and too much time required.