Emotional Rescue: How Technology And Experiences Are Keeping Customers At Malls

The retail apocalypse is forcing mall landlords to become ever more inventive to keep their properties full.

By Jeff Vasishta April 20, 2017

If you’ve purchased something at a mall recently, chances are the cashier asked for your e-mail address or phone number. Soon after, every store in the mall may have bombarded you with their promotions. Welcome to the retail apocalypse 2017, where desperate times call for desperate measures.

As malls resemble ghost towns and stores shutter their doors like cotton candy stands in winter, landlords are turning to technology to try and lure patrons back to their empty buildings. Phone apps and credit card linked programs along with e-mail are tracking a customer’s spending habits in the same way as a search engine tracks online spending and chases you round the internet with ads.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, some malls are offering rewards programs for spending a certain amount of money. The reward is usually a cash offer which, in turn, can be redeemed at the same mall where the original purchase was made.

While retailers suffer, tech companies that are devising the reward programs that crop up on your smartphones are enjoying brisk business.

“It’s a competitive market out there in retail,” said Chelsie Petereit, vice president of marketing at Starwood Retail the owner of the Chicago Ridge Mall. “People have got a computer in their pockets and these rewards are just enough to tip them over to make the purchase, especially if they are already in the center.”

Personal info is like manna from heaven for shopping malls. Bypassing the hit or miss marketing of newspaper ads or coupons, a text message or an e-mail goes straight into the phone of a potential customer.

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“You get an SMS congratulating you in real time. It’s very engaging and it makes you want to do it again,” said Jonathan Dyke, chief operating officer at Spring Marketplace, which also counts mall REITs such as Simon Property Group, Taubman Centers Inc. and Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust as its clients.

However, before mall retailers can have access to a consumer’s contact information there needs to be an opt in agreement. Credit card data is encrypted and only shared with stores within a specific shopping mall, not outside parties.

Investing in an app to send messages through conventional e-mail and social media can running into the millions. The WSJ piece quotes a $10 million price tag for a Nebraska mall landlord to attract clients.

Other tech savvy ways malls are attracting foot traffic and getting customer’s e-mail info include a “click and collect” options where consumer’s pay for something online and pick it up at a store — a boon during holiday season when delivery times aren’t always reliable. Free WiFi is always attractive and usually comes with some kind of exchange of info. Real time, actionable insights for parking and consumer location analytics, allows malls to be smarter and more connected. Mobile apps developed by Jibestream offers shoppers turn-by-turn navigation from store to store and directions to their parked car. All involve a coveted access to a customer’s mobile device. Beauty retailer Sephora was one of the first stores to introduce Apple Pay, featuring beacon technology. This sends personalized promotions to users’ mobile device while simultaneously collecting consumer data.

Technology may get a customer through the mall doors but keeping them there is another matter. If a customer has more things to do than simply shop, chances are they’ll hang around. Dining, spa treatments, grocery shopping and even the chance to sit back, relax and watch a sports game at pavilion all work in concert with apps and algorithms.

“Brick and mortar will never go away,” said Edward Manuel, Senior Vice President of Development for Trademark Property in North Texas. “The more experiences you can create, the more you can connect with people on an emotional level.”

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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