For many, ordering up a ride share is becoming as central to the American experience as shopping.
And now Westfield and Uber are meeting at the snazzy intersection of the two: the new Uber Lounge in Los Angeles’ Century City mall offers a place for patrons to connect with the service or rest their weary feet as they wait for the drivers.
Located near Santa Monica Boulevard, Century City’s stylized space features an aesthetic reminiscent of airline club lounges. Like those VIP areas, it also offers a staffed customer service kiosk where shoppers can check on their rides, send inquiries or get help registering for an Uber account. The new lounge is part of the mall’s $1 billion renovation.
According to Uber, this is the first of 33 pick-up/drop-off points, and all of the driver kiosks will be functional in the next two weeks. That seems like a drop in the bucket considering the San Francisco-based company’s total business, which covers more than 65 million riders month and north of five billion trips.
“The way we design our buildings and cities needs to make sense for the new way that people are moving around,” said Amy Friedlander Hoffman, Uber’s head of business development. “When you’re taking an Uber instead of driving, you don’t need a parking spot anymore, but you do need a place to wait for your ride and a place to get dropped off and picked up.”
The mall developer shared Uber’s vision, making it a good fit for this partnership. “Westfield saw these changing habits, and so together we are creating a better experience for our customers,” she said, adding that this is just the beginning. The company plans to seek out other retail partners.
In all, this has been a tumultuous year for the ride-hailing service, largely thanks to the antics and subsequent replacement of founder and ex-chief executive officer Travis Kalanick. Announced in early September, just after Kalanick’s departure, the Westfield deal was likely forged during his tenure. Its execution now is in the hands of new chief Dara Khosrowshahi, formerly of travel service Expedia.
Uber has been moving in seemingly every direction it can think of, thanks largely to the auspices of its “start-up-within-a-start-up” Uber Everything team. In addition to business service (Uber for Business), it also offers food (UberEats) and on-demand delivery (UberRush).
This may be just another experiment for Uber, but it may mean more for Westfield.
According to reports by Credit Suisse, up to a quarter of America’s 1,100 malls will close over the next five years; this year alone, as many as 8,600 brick-and-mortar stores are expected to shutter. And yet, the glum prediction seems to fly in the face of research conducted by behavioral marketers at SmarterHQ, which reports that 50 percent of Millennials prefer going to physical stores as a primary means of shopping.
This dissonance has retail experts evangelizing about a multichannel approach, blending brick-and-mortar with digital efforts to appeal to modern shoppers. Those tactics can vary a great deal. For instance, B8ta, which recently made news for its New York pop-up shop with Marie Claire, is about to launch a San Francisco location where consumers can check out e-commerce products in person.
Westfield has taken a different tack. In the mall developer’s initial announcement, William Hecht, U.S. chief operating officer, explained that the Uber deal’s goal was “to leverage modern technology in a way that makes it more convenient than ever to travel to and from any Westfield destination.” The effort is part of Westfield’s digital makeover, with updates that include “product search, directional and frictionless parking.”
On the heels of launching the Uber Lounge, the company plans to unveil the Century City renovation tonight.