mall of america holiday

Mall of America, known for being America’s largest mall, has a new retail partner with a decidedly techie bent: The Minnesota-based mall operator unveiled a new location-based retail chatbot to offer recommendations and speed service during the hectic holiday shopping season.

The brick-and-mortar giant worked with Satisfi Labs on the artificial intelligence program, which will make the bot available on the Mall of America’s website, app and Facebook, as well as through an Amazon Alexa skill.

“They have the opportunity to ‘chat’ with us,” said Sarah Townes, vice president of marketing for Mall of America. “Guests can ask a variety of questions that are geared towards navigating around Mall of America, or more personal questions such as where to find a great gift for someone on their Holiday shopping list.” Using natural language, the bot can also provide directions based on the user’s location and convey which stores stock particular brands.

If a complex request requires a human touch, she added, the customer can ask to connect with a customer service representative or concierge.

“On top of location, the bot uses the source of the question [mobile, Alexa, etc.] as a context point to deliver a unique answer,” explained Justine Santa Cruz, vice president of strategic partnerships and alliances at Satisfi Labs.

Though MOA’s retail location bot is the first of its kind for Satisfi, it’s not the firm’s first chatbot. “We’ve done work with other malls, such as the Irvine Company, where we launched an SMS bot called ‘At Your Service,’ which mall visitors can use to search for tenants, services and special events happening at their local mall,” Cruz said.

The company also worked on Macy’s retail pilot program last year for “Macy’s On Call,” which responded to customer inquiries about in-store inventory, available brands, promotions and services at their local location, as well as bots for major sports leagues and entertainment like “Miss Saigon” on Broadway.

With e-commerce surging and the number of malls dwindling, innovation takes on a more critical retail role. In recent years, MOA has been focused on its digital transformation, an initiative that previously culminated in a test with SoftBank’s humanoid robot, Pepper. The mall-based machine will support this latest AI chatbot sometime in early 2018.

“Innovation is a key factor to Mall of America’s success,” said Townes. MOA recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, and it “has seen the retail industry transform drastically over those 25 years. Right now, we look at the evolving retail landscape as an opportunity for Mall of America to really own the brick and mortar shopping, dining, and entertainment experience.”

As many as 2,500 guests lined up outside MOA on Black Friday morning, “waiting for us to open at 5 a.m.,” she added. “This is great proof that guests are still craving that shopping experience.”