With consumer experience all the rage in retail, is it any wonder that Caruso — a hospitality-minded, Los Angeles-based real estate developer — would look for ways to pamper its premium audience?
The consumer-first mission is at the heart of a new partnership with Uber, announced Wednesday. The deal brings ride-sharing features and upscale waiting lounges to marquee Caruso properties The Grove, The Americana at Brand and Palisades Village.
These are no bus stops. A stark contrast from the shunted-off pick-up spots at places like the airport or hotels, the company’s carefully crafted Uber zones were created to appeal to the high expectations of the company’s patrons.
The idea of dedicated ride-share waiting areas is not new for shopping plazas. It’s not even new for Los Angeles, as the Westfield Century City Mall built an Uber lounge right into its renovation in 2017.
At the time, Amy Friedlander Hoffman, Uber’s head of business development, explained to WWD that “the way we design our buildings and cities needs to make sense for the new way that people are moving around.” The company announced that it would expand into 33 more lounges — and, Hoffman added, the company intended to go after even more retail partners.
It looks like Caruso has strapped in for the ride now. Although this is not its first Uber partnership — the companies joined forces to offer transport to holiday shoppers at The Grove back in 2014 — chief business officer Jackie Levy said that the deal for the lounges actually began about two years ago.
According to Levy, it all started when the ride-sharing company singled out a Caruso location.
“When Uber announced that The Grove was the most popular Uber destination in California in 2017, we were excited to understand how we could collaborate with Uber to make our guests feel more welcome and provide them with convenience and care from the moment they request a ride,” he said. So the partners put their heads together and collaborated on three distinct lounges that share a consumer-first ethos.
The real estate developer talks about its work in terms of “thoughtful” design. So for these waiting areas, that means custom furnishings from Sunbrella and features like in-seat USB ports. People can luxuriate in climate-controlled comfort, thanks to overhead heaters that automatically adjust to day-to-evening temperature changes, and sip complimentary, seasonal beverages while they wait for their drivers.
The lounges also promise streamlined pickup to minimize wait times and “hands-free” convenience: Shoppers can unload bags with Caruso’s signature concierge service, which will hold and place them directly in the Uber cars.
“[The spaces were] designed to reflect traffic patterns and customer experience at each property, and added service offerings and amenities that truly take care of our guests from arrival to departure,” Levy added.
Beyond just making weary shoppers happy, these Uber zones make for some savvy business moves as well.
The new spaces essentially provide a captive audience for exclusive promotions and discount codes from the brands at a given location. And these Uber users also get discounted rides to the developer’s other properties, which encourages visits. The launch starts on Oct. 30 with The Grove, with the other two lounges opening in the following weeks.
As it is, Caruso claims that The Grove already gets more daily foot traffic than Disneyland — which would be a remarkable achievement, in light of gloomy brick-and-mortar environment that, by some counts, will claim more than 8,500 store closures by year’s end.
It looks like more evidence that shopping must become something more than just pushing product. And companies that get this — whether through a deep understanding of their clientele or the right partnerships, or both — won’t just survive. They will thrive.