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Shopping malls and the retailers that occupy them will either learn to compete with the likes of Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZND) and other online entities or fail. In some cases, learning to compete also means learning to imitate.

Simon Property Group Inc. (NYSE:SPGF) and General Growth Properties Inc. (:GGPN/A), the two largest mall operators in the U.S. are doing just that.

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Technology On The Rise

One area Amazon and others in the online space have excelled at is the use of technology. Shopping malls have taken note and started adding mapping functions to assist shoppers in finding parking spaces, making their way through the mall or even checking out instant sales at nearby stores.

For mall owners the goals are simple. They want to make the shopping experience as easy as possible so retailers will want to lease space in their malls instead of with their competition. Improving customer experience and increasing sales also paves the way to increase lease rates.

All About Collecting Data

Borrowing a page from the online retailer’s playbook, some malls have started using technology developed by Path Intelligence, called Footpath. Footpath monitoring units, spaced throughout the mall, sense movement of customers by triangulation of signals from their mobile phones and send the resulting analytics back to retailers.

Anonymous data tell stores how many unique visitors walk past a given display or advertisement. It also provides an indication of how many end up entering the store. This allows the store to determine which displays are most effective at generating visitors.

Startups Take Advantage

The Wall Street Journal notes that a number of startups have entered the arena developing and selling interactive mobile phone-based mall maps designed to guide shoppers to various destinations, help them find parking spaces and even alert them when there are sales going on.

One such firm, Jibestream, has signed up hundreds of malls run by Westfield Corp., General Growth and Majid Al Futtaim, a Dubai-based shopping mall owner.

Retailers Piling On

Before mall owners started utilizing technology, individual retailers were already using digital means to attract and keep customers.

Beacons are one such technology that allow stores to connect to mobile phones via Bluetooth to guide them to items on their shopping list. Major retailers such as Whole Foods Market Inc. (:WFMN/A) and Lowe’s (NYSE:LOWD) have adopted something called Smart Shelf technology to monitor inventory and alert those stores when stock is getting low.

Virtual reality has also entered retail space with stores like Lowe’s using VR headsets to allow customers to actually enter their just-designed new bathroom or kitchen while standing in the store.

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A Future Imagined

Jibestream CEO, Chris Wiegand has already looked ahead to a day when driverless cars utilize mall-provided mapping to find a parking space close to a shopper’s favorite stores. Then, as the driver emerges from the car, the mobile device takes over, guiding the shopper into and throughout the mall.

Many believe this growing technology-oriented partnership between retailers and mall owners will not only delay the long-foretold demise of brick and mortar shopping, but actually prevent it from ever happening.

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