Limbic Media

Limbic Media

Category: multisensory

Interview: Challenges and Trends Facing the Holiday Lighting Installation Industry

Planning holiday lighting installations might be off the average homeowner’s radar for several more months—but for those in the commercial holiday lighting industry, projects are already in the planning phase. We talked to Darren Vader of Lumyn Immersive Media about the challenges and trends facing the holiday lighting and installation industry. Darren is the founder of The Christmas Light Emporium and Extreme Lightscapes, and has years of experience in the holiday installation industry.

 

What do your companies do, and is it possible to survive year-round in the holiday lighting industry?

This depends on what aspect of the season lighting industry a company is involved in. I see the market as having basically three top level segments: residential services, commercial services and retail/wholesale/commercial product sales.

My companies are involved in technology design and consulting for commercial projects and retail/wholesale product sales. I focus heavily on creating the highest perceived value possible. This allows me to design higher-end displays, pieces and light shows using the highest quality components available, while often implementing technology that is light years ahead of others in the market. All of these things mean I have a longer sales cycle—way longer than those who focus on residential and a good bit longer that those who only focus on commercial installation. So for me, it is absolutely a year-round focus. I spend the first half of the year selling new projects and the second half of the year doing onsite consulting/installation and managing our retail operation.

For residential services, we are chiefly talking about Christmas light installers. It is not common to see a full time, year-round business with no other revenue stream. The most successful residential installers will have a few key staff that are full time/year-round and a vastly higher number of staff that are seasonal only. They also tend to pad revenue with other services such as landscaping or landscape lighting. I always tell my friends in the residential space who are successful that it’s not their skill at light installation that makes them good at what they do—it’s the fact that they are masters of logistics.

I would say that most companies involved in the seasonal lighting industry are more focused on what I call “right-now revenue’” rather than on providing long-term value for their customers. This is especially true in the residential holiday lighting installation market where a huge majority of service providers are small teams just trying to monetize on a season-by-season basis, and do not run full-time seasonal lighting operations. There are a lot of larger, successful companies in this space, but there are far more who are 1—4 person, seasonal-only operations just looking for “right-now revenue.”

Commercial Holiday LED Lighting Installation

Extreme Lightscapes: New Orleans Christmas in the District

Commercial service providers typically are able to command a higher price point for their services because it requires an advanced set of skills and new logistical challenges. The venues are almost always much larger. The installation time, equipment and logistics of working in public spaces are far more complex than in the residential space. I would say that a majority of companies specializing in large commercial installations are likely to be full-time, year-round operations even if with a limited staff. This is the segment within which technology specialists such as myself and my companies exist. Technology services and consulting for complex lighting installations is an underserved niche market that requires a very unique combination of right-brain/left-brain thinking.

Retail/Wholesale/Commercial Product Sales: this is where a good bit of the real magic happens. Manufacturers and retail/wholesale entities who have the foresight to create new and exciting products for use by commercial and residential installers are the ones who drive innovation in the seasonal lighting industry. Often they are being pushed by folks like myself and others in the residential and commercial services space who are constantly demanding new and innovative products. All of the larger commercial product companies are certainly year-round operations. There are a few retailers of seasonal lighting who are able to operate full-time as well. But most of them are supplementing with some level of marketing toward patio/landscape lighting, event lighting or even municipal and general lighting products.

Regardless of which segment of the seasonal lighting industry a company participates, I believe that whether or not a company can make a full time/year-round business out of it is chiefly based on their ability to create designs, services and products that are impressive enough to command a high-perceived value. You have to build a reputation as being one of the best in the industry nationally or even internationally in order to command top dollar and top margins, and afford to work on Christmas all year long!

Commercial holiday lighting installation

Photo: Extreme Lightscapes

How do seasonal holiday installers survive in the off-season?

Residential installers who do not run a company full-time are very often firemen, policemen, landscapers or otherwise employed in an opposing seasonal field. Residential installation companies who are full time will almost always also offer landscape or landscape lighting services to keep some cash flow rolling during other parts of the year.

 

What are the biggest challenges facing holiday installers today?

As a business owner, I think the biggest challenges are:

  • Increasing product costs from overseas manufacturers
  • Difficulty in keeping up with changes in technology and its knowledge curve
  • Maintaining the ability to create designs, services and products that are impressive enough to command a high-perceived value

 

How do you see those challenges being addressed?

Manufacturing of holiday lighting on the high end has somewhat shifted to Europe, but that makes the cost very high. I think that in the future we will see some of the larger European companies open manufacturing facilities in the U.S.. I already see some U.S. companies in the commercial product space who are taking European style and having similar designs produced in Asia at a much lower price point. When it comes to the basic components—lighting, technology and supplies – if costs of production continue to increase in Asia, I see the possibility of U.S. distributors moving production to places like Mexico and the Philippines or other areas where cost can be brought back down a bit.

Keeping up with technology will always be a challenge. It is a generational thing. Just like my generation was the first Internet generation, we are now getting “schooled” by our kids, who are the first social media generation. In a similar fashion, I was part of the first generation of seasonal lighting technologists. I am very often getting “schooled” by the next/younger generation of technologists who, for example, are fluent with and have pushed the limits of what can be achieved with RGB lighting and control systems. At some point I feel like we have to move beyond being hands on with it ourselves and focus more on the theoretical—coming up with visions, inventions and ideas that are superior to what exist right now—and then hire the next/younger generation to build out those visions! Much like the Apple, Steve Jobs approach to technology.

Maintaining the ability to bring to market designs and technologies that have a high-perceived value, I think, is just a matter of never getting bored. You have to absolutely love seasonal lighting. When you stop loving it more than everyone else, you will stop caring about creating things with a high-perceived value. If you don’t value your ideas, neither will anyone else.

Multi-sensory LED light tunnel

Extreme Lightscapes Tunnel

What current trends are you seeing in installation projects?

Interactivity and immersive environments and displays. This is the same mantra being chanted in every corner of all segments of the event production space. The human condition is so complex, and getting more so year by year, that people are becoming desensitized to what we have known as common visual and audio stimulants. The world is so audibly and visually “noisy” that we have to cut through all the mess by offering interactive displays, immersive environments and advanced sensory experiences in order to capture people’s attention, bring their minds into a peaceful zone (or a party zone, or a reflective zone, or whatever happens to be appropriate for the environment) and give them something important that will tell a story on behalf of the producer.

When it comes to how: RGB RGB RGB RGB. European design. Video mapping—both using traditional projectors and more recently by using RGB pixel grids and feeding them video content. Sound, motion reactivity, physical interaction, etc.

 

What are the differences in the demands you get from commercial vs. residential clients?

I would say that commercial installers are being hit with all of the tending demand we just mentioned. They are being asked to execute these interactive and immersive visions within often very tight budgets. Residential installers I think have a completely different challenge. Residential buyers are notoriously “best price” shoppers without much regard to who the best person is for the job.

 

Up to how much do clients pay (residential vs. commercial) for their installations?

This is all over the map. I focus on commercial projects. My average project is probably around $100,000 with a huge range of $50,000-$1million, with a mean budget probably around $50,000-$75,000.

For residential installers, the range is also very wide. Most of the non-full-time, one-man operations are also wildly undercutting the full-time installers and and probably average around $200-$300 and focus on 1-story or smaller 2-story neighborhoods. At the same time, I know several full-time residential installation companies who have a $1,000 minimum per project and they are extremely successful. Their clients are typically wealthy neighborhoods and small commercial venues (small shopping centers, stand alone restaurants, etc).

 

Do you ever have clients request holiday installs that are also adaptable for year-round use?

Rarely. This is something that I am trying to educate my customers on. A seasonal display that is truly designed to bring out the feeling of the holidays is never going to be something you want left up all year long in its entirety. But we almost always are including components within those displays that most certainly could and should be considered for permanent, all-year use. This is especially true of some of the interactive displays and many components that use RGB lighting systems or projection. These systems are relatively easy to create new content for changing times of the year.

LED Christmas tree light show

Extreme Lightscapes Installation at Dallas Zoo

What role does new technology play in your business?

Massive. It’s all I do. This is what makes my company unique. There are not many of us in the seasonal lighting business who only focus on new technology. This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything else, but new technology is always what we lead with and it is what my companies are known for. There are only a small handful of others who approach seasonal lighting this way who are full-time operators. If it wasn’t for my focus on technology, I’d just be another miscellaneous commercial lighting installer.

Is interactivity a growing component of the holiday lighting install industry?

Absolutely. And not just with technology. One of the most popular types of display pieces I have included in my designs recently has been 3-dimensional pieces that people can walk through or touch. This year I am pushing these limits with the vision to bring to market solutions that are both 3 dimensional walk through piece and immersive, multi-sensory experiences. I fully believe that this is where the market is heading. And there are a million different ways to bring this vision to fruition. I believe that the immersive movement will last for a while into the future.

 

What are some examples of interactive installations you’ve done?

Walk-through ornaments, stars, tunnels, light show tunnels, sound-to-light, Santa set built inside a light-show tree, next step—multi-sensory displays!

 

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8 Interactive Technologies of Future Shopping Malls

When Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store opened in SoHo in 2015, the retailer was known primarily for selling bags. Since introducing interactive technology for their customers on the floor, clothing sales tripled their expectations within a year.

Interactive technology in retail has been the driving theme behind our previous two blogs on shopping malls. We detailed how the offline retail industry has changed over the last decade and how it can adapt, in or out of lucrative holiday seasons. In addition to the impact of e-commerce and economic downturns, people’s spending habits have been influenced by an increasing desire for multisensory experiences, often in offline spaces.

Investing in interactive public art has a huge ROI both fiscally and culturally for their surrounding communities and businesses. Establishing a returning audience through these experiences is the answer to shopping malls’ survival. What exactly do these experiences look like in today’s malls? In the third and final article in our shopping mall series, we’re going to look at six different technologies you can find in the world’s most cutting-edge and successful shopping malls.

 

Photo: Marina Nazario/ Business Insider

1. Interactive mirrors

Oh, the drudgery of standing in line for a changing room only to be harassed by a sales associate as you struggle with a top—brands are now using interactivity to make changing room experiences fun and unique. Ralph Lauren’s flagship store in Manhattan implemented touch-screen mirrors that display your items and let you adjust the lighting. You can also request different sizes via touch-screen from your sales associate, who lets you know in real-time when they’re en route.

Touch-screen mirrors are a good example of how retail spaces are mimicking the interactive aspects of e-commerce. Rebecca Minkoff’s store houses interactive mirrors with eBay’s inventory management software. The mirrors act like virtual personal style assistants, making suggestions and telling customers exactly what’s in stock. The interactivity also helps the company track spending habits while increasing sales.

 

Photo: Business Wire

2. Virtual try-on

Less widespread than interactive mirrors is the virtual try-on mirror released by Samsung in 2015. The idea is to set up mirrors in non-retail spaces that provide customers with a hassle-free, interactive way to engage with products without stepping foot inside a store.

A  similar product was more recently patented by Amazon, and acts like a full-body Snapchat filter that integrates virtual try-on with backdrops in various locations. The company claims to use the world’s most advanced technology in light and projection to bring online shopping models to an offline, participatory audience.

 

Photo: brandchannel

3. Interactive window displays

Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan installed an interactive window display for Father’s Day in 2015. The goal of the project was to stop foot traffic by offering a captivating participatory experience. It also provided an opportunity to make sales out of convenience; if customers liked the products they experienced, they could make purchases without taking extra time to go inside.

Similarly, French shoe retailer Repetto drew in foot traffic by using motion-tracking technology in an interactive window display. Audience motion created a holographic catalogue that reacted in real-time with customers. 

 

 

Photo: Matthew Carasella/Bloomingdale’s

4. Immersive screens

Microsoft deploys immersive screens in their stores that wrap around the entire retail space. A server synchronizes the images as they flow from screen to screen so the experience isn’t localized to one portion of the floor. The immersive display benefits stores in their versatility. They offer product information, educate viewers on tech topics, provide audio visual entertainment, invite participation through activities like gaming, and update customers on localized events and news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Patrick Bingham-Hall

5. Combining high-tech architecture and light

Since the beginning, shopping malls have focused on interior space and retail, often neglecting their exterior appeal. Incorporating interactive public art, technology, light and design into mall exteriors is another effective way of place making and drawing in customers.

The Bugis+ shopping mall in Singapore invested as much into its facade as its interior, and the result is a piece of architecture that is hard to pass by. The building features a curved, crystal-mesh facade. Lighting is integrated into the mesh and controlled with custom software to make it sparkle during the day and glow after sundown. It was designed to involve its surrounding community in an interactive experience; artists and the public can project messages and art into the crystalline architecture on a large-scale. This not only drives mall traffic, but establishes the mall as a cultural and artistic place-maker in the region.

 

 

6. Sound and light shows and simulated experiences

The Mall of America offers a free 9-minute interactive light show every night that focuses on engaging and entertaining younger audiences. The show features lighting that is programmed to a variety of music styles. It can be viewed from various levels of the Mall’s concourse, but those dancing to the music on the ground floor experience spotlights and other lighting effects interacting with their movement in real-time. According to this mom, the multisensory show is effective in driving return traffic, especially for families seeking a unique, emotive experience.

Multisensory experiences are heightened even more intensely at MOA’s FlyOver America. At a small price, you can virtually tour the country’s most iconic landscapes and landmarks in an experience not unlike Brave New World’s feelies, with weather and scents incorporated with sound and visuals.

 

Photos: Active Lab

7. Experiential-only retailers

The Grand Front, a six-storey shopping mall in Osaka, Japan, sets itself apart from most other shopping malls on the planet through interactive technology. You won’t find your typical mall anchor stores at Grand Front—to get a lease there, retail spaces must offer technologically innovative, immersive experiences for consumers. Big brands exhibit concept stores that tackle innovative themes rather than their run-of-the-mill products.

The mall also houses the Innovation Lab, which showcases startup businesses that use mall-goers as guinea pigs to beta-test products like the aforementioned interactive mirrors. Grand Front Osaka also has a Knowledge Capital devoted to edutainment, bridging the gap between retail and multisensory experience. The mall is part of a larger goal not only to resurrect shopping mall longevity but to stimulate a declining tech sector among the city’s largely ageing population.

 

8. Robots

A 4-foot humanoid robot has started spicing up retail spaces around the world. “Pepper” is touted as the world’s first robot that understands and recognizes facial expressions, voice, body language and emotion, and is capable of carrying out basic conversation. The robot is useful in a variety of settings including the home, but introducing the robot to retail space helps welcome and direct foot traffic in conjunction with human staff.

The robot has the added non-human benefits of interactively entertaining kids while their parents are browsing, and following up with customers after retail exchanges. The impact of Pepper on retail space is so promising that the first 1000 Peppers sold within their first minute on the market for about $1600 USD a piece.

Perhaps the most intriguing interactive component to Pepper in a retail space is its ability to style. The robot is programmed to understand how inventories of clothing items fit different body types, and provide detailed personal style advice to individual customers. Too shy to get an opinion from a stranger? Just ask Pepper.

 

If you could describe the future of shopping malls in three words, they would be interactive public spaces. The world’s most thriving shopping centres stay ahead by offering technology and experiences that e-commerce can’t.

It’s not realistic for all shopping malls to adopt these expensive interactive technologies like robots and touch-screen mirrors—but making relatively small installation investments provides opportunities to engage with customers in new ways and create offline social platforms. These will have a huge impact on the success of shopping malls, not only economically, but culturally in their communities.

Any way you slice it, years of overbuilding means that not every mall will survive the coming generations. Those that do will undoubtedly make use of technology, art, and interactivity in their public spaces.

 

To learn more about a Limbic Media product that’s making public spaces interactive, check out Aurora.

Santa slays: Why holiday shopping mall displays are worth investing in

As cherry trees begin blossoming along Victoria’s boulevards, thoughts of Christmas planning are at least several months down the road for the average person. However, big-time holiday event planners like shopping malls and other public centers are already getting the ball rolling for the 2018 season. Our previous article discussed how shopping malls are adapting their public spaces to survive coming generations. Malls are finding themselves in a consumer landscape that is spending more on multisensory experiences and online shopping, and they must adapt their public spaces accordingly. Christmas is the most lucrative time of the year to invest in that change, and the easiest way to do it is through interactive holiday displays. This is the second in our series on how shopping malls are changing as public spaces.

 

Santa reading his list Offline displays offer something that e-commerce can’t 

As more consumers move to e-commerce, malls are making or breaking their success by transforming their public spaces into immersive art displays and edutainment centers that incorporate participatory technology. Since the recession in 2008, consumers have less disposable income but are also more inclined to spend experientially. Now that the millennial generation is becoming parents, they are channeling those experiential values through their kids as well. Shopping malls are waking up to the fact that offering interactive components to their space not only attracts customers, but keeps them returning. These displays offer something consumers can’t get by shopping online, and they’re willing to take the trip to brick-and-mortar stores to get the experience.

Shopping online is seen as a big threat to offline material consumption. For the time being, however, recent numbers show that only 11.6% of retail sales occur in an online marketplace—and all it takes is a short visit to shopping malls in early December to see that there is still a huge demand for over the holidays. Investing in non-retail, interactive public displays provides a huge opportunity for shopping malls to raise their profile not only during the season, but for the rest of the year.

While adapting space to meet these needs is worth the year-round investment, shopping malls create displays during the Christmas season almost by default—so standing out and creating something that other public or offline spaces aren’t is critical to stay afloat. You just can’t get a spot on Santa’s lap over the web.

 

Christmas shopping mall

It’s a win-win for consumers and non-retail business

It’s no surprise that shopping malls make a killing over the holidays. However, a deeper look into the holiday display industry reveals a seasonal employment sector that is surprisingly lucrative. When you picture the 5000 mall Santas that are estimated to be employed across the United States every holiday season, it’s the stuff of an obscure holiday-themed VICE documentary on American subcultures. Mall Santas rake in anything from $10,000-$60,000 USD over the five to six-week holiday season, some even earning $500 USD per hour.  

And it’s not just Santas that benefit from seasonal employment. There are at least two professional santa claus schools in the United States—one in Denver, Colorado, and the “Harvard” of Santa Schools, employing faculties that have been pumping out an annual class of bearded graduates as early as 1937. Behind every holiday mall display is also a team of event planners, photographers, lighting installers, set designers and assistants to attend the millions of Santa-display customers every year.

Santa mall displays are becoming more sophisticated and interactive than ever before. The aforementioned Santa schools include workshops on the latest gadgets to get Santas familiarized with the kind of edutainment kids are after, and to offer an extra level of interactivity on site. Phone alerts allow customers to avoid lineups or queue specifically for a black, white, asian, or ASL-speaking Santa. Some bigger malls even have themed interactive Frozen or Shrek displays to occupy customers while they wait. Holiday displays are more engaging for visitors and as a result, increasingly profitable for their organizers.

 

Counting money The return of investment is huge

The ROI of having an engaging holiday-themed display at a shopping mall is staggering. One mall can earn up to $1-million per season directly from a single Santa display. That doesn’t include the retail revenue from visitors who shopped while they came in to see the display. The trade group International Council of Shopping Centers found that 70% of shoppers made purchases while they were at the mall specifically to see Santa. If an interactive display has the potential to draw that kind of return for six weeks of the year, it makes sense that shopping malls are investing more in non-seasonal immersive art and participatory displays.

Monetary returns on investing in displays are convincing, but there’s also huge value in intangible returns that is overlooked, especially when aesthetics are often perceived as secondary to profits.

A mixed-use building in LA’s Koreatown neighbourhood, housing residential and retail space over a busy subway, invested $75,000—or 0.06% of the development’s total cost—into a large-scale murals on the building’s facade. The public art ended up getting featured on the cover of LA Times’ news and culture section, not only marketing the display but also giving the developer invaluable international recognition as a cultural influencer. The display ended up in dozens of publications, became a popular location for photo and video shoot and news backdrops, and served as a marketing image for the transit authority.

Similarly, the California Department of Transportation developed an HQ in a nearby neighbourhood. The development required 1% of its total cost to be dedicated to public art, as mandated by the State of California. The result was an installation of architectural neon and argon light tubes that emulate car tail lights in motion. The public art was a big hit. The Department receives a regular income from photographers and filmmakers who use the space as a site (there are definite Bladerunner vibes), and the architectural light installation has gained a global reputation in the public art world.

While these examples aren’t holiday-themed (displays can usually be adapted quite easily, however), they confirm that the ROI for non-retail investments in public space are well worth it, both fiscally and intangibly—and these public art examples aren’t even interactive! When displays, holiday-themed or otherwise, are raised to a participatory level that the public can actually engage with, that value is elevated even moreso. Not only does it benefit those commissioning and creating the art, but it also fosters a sense of community and placemaking for those in direct contact with it.

 

Present addressed from SantaThe takeaways

In an uncertain offline retail market, some shopping malls might balk at the idea of investing a substantial sum of money into holiday displays. However, in line with Henry Ford’s saying that “a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time,” not investing in the impact of a public space is sacrificing the very element of shopping malls that is key to their survival.

Holiday displays like Santas that offer a mixture of public art, interactivity and technology helps malls stand out from other public spaces, profit the most from retail and employ more people seasonally. Because holiday displays also have the potential to raise a shopping mall’s profile, investments into public art, particularly interactive public art, are well worth the return if they can also adapt to non-seasonal audiences that value multisensory experiences outside the home.

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Interactive Technology and the Future of Shopping Malls as Public Spaces

 

 Just blocks from Limbic Media in Victoria, BC stands a $72 million construction site that will become a shiny new Mayfair Shopping Centre next fall. It might be hard to find reasoning behind such an investment when the smell of death seems to be in the air with shopping malls. Are shopping malls just another blip on the capitalist timeline, like newspapers or drive-ins? Or are they a cultural necessity that needs to adapt to a changing consumer landscape? An in-depth look at successful shopping malls in today’s market points to the latter—and they’re adapting through technology, interactivity, and place making. This is the first in a series of Limbic Media articles on how shopping malls are changing as public spaces.


Where does shopping mall culture come from?

The role of shopping malls has shifted from generation to generation. Unless you’re riding a roller coaster at the West Edmonton Mall, we now usually think of shopping malls strictly as consumption centres; places we can’t afford to be lured into for the sake of browsing or hanging out, unless we’re in-and-out for something specific. In 2012, venture capitalist Chris Dixon wrote that the future of “offline commerce will serve only two purposes: immediacy (stuff you need right away), and experiences (showroom, fun venues). All other commerce will happen online.” With this changing tide, it’s easy to forget the history behind shopping malls as social placemakers.

 

The earliest shopping malls in North America opened in the 1920s to mirror the automobile industry’s rise. Malls provided easy car-accessible centres for family outings. As suburban invasions of the 1950s moved people away from social hubs in city centres, architects like Victor Gruen, famous for pioneering shopping mall design, saw this cultural shift as an opportunity. Malls could drive consumer traffic by getting people out of their cars and into  commercial spaces conducive to public social interaction in a landscape where there was none. If people had an interactive and engaging place to shop in, they would keep coming back.

 

By the early 1980s, large centres like the West Edmonton Mall usually contained social, non-retail areas like open-air restaurants, skating rinks and even themed amusement parks. Around this time, shopping malls were eating up 50% of retail profits across the United States.

 

Why are shopping malls “dying?”

Flash forward to the post-recession years. Retail outlets like Sears, Macy’s, and Target, the anchor stores of shopping malls, have been filing bankruptcy and closing their doors en masse. When it comes to the demise of shopping malls, in concurrence with Dixon’s prediction, online retail is blamed as the culprit.

 

People are spending more of their dollars online for its convenience and the credibility that online reviews provide. Between 2010 and 2016, Amazon’s sales grew from $16 billion to $80 billion, almost four times what Sears made in 2016. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce accounted for 11.6% of total retail sales that same year, which seems fairly in-line with the number of mall closures—predicted at 15% over the next decade in the United States.

 

Accusing e-commerce exclusively for killing malls is probably an oversimplification. Mall visits declined about 50% in the few years after 2008. With the economic crash, people generally had less disposable income—but their attitudes about consumption, especially among millennials, also changed. People increasingly value multisensory experiences over, or alongside of, the attainment of goods.

 

There’s also the issue of real estate. When anchor stores like Sears and Target close, they leave hundreds of thousands of empty square footage for over-built malls to fill. Finding tenants who are willing to sign expensive leases in a less-than-promising retail market is hard, and malls have to shutter. It might be more accurate to say then that shopping mall deaths are due more directly to the misuse and cost of space rather than a massive move of pedestrian traffic to an online marketplace, at least for the time being.

 

The increasing death of shopping malls seems concomitant with the death of a certain sense of community that malls originally set out to encourage in the 1950s. Inner cities are becoming more unaffordable and more communities are dispersed in urban sprawls. People have less time to join or establish community groups because they are working ever harder to support themselves and their families, and they now have online social platforms to engage in at their convenience. Ironically, the increase of virtual connection has left us feeling no less socially isolated—some would argue even more isolated—than before the rise of social platforms via the internet.

 

 

What are malls doing to reverse the trend?

The new demand for experiential consumption combined with real estate barriers means that shopping malls need to reinvent their spaces if they hope to survive the coming generations. Malls with the same stores and brands on repeat are boring to customers. Centers need to create unique experiences and spaces to attract visitors and keep them returning.

 

One solution is to embrace digital technologies that are seen as a threat to offline shopping and use them to transform shopping malls into multisensory experiences. Malls are reimagining their public spaces into entertainment centres where audiences can participate. By offering this kind of social currency to consumers who value multisensory experiences over physical products, shopping malls increase return foot traffic. Another approach is to add learning components to multisensory displays. Visitors are given opportunities to learn about products while they’re engaging with them, which is especially effective with younger audiences.

 

In the last decade, shopping malls have seen a rising demand for “edutainment.” Edutainment centers combine themed entertainment with experiential learning and high-tech games. 53.8% of all indoor entertainment centers in the world, mainly by the companies Legoland Discovery Centers and KidZania, opened between 2010-2015. This growth reflects the positive effect that combining immersive edutainment and technology with retail have on returning visitors and overall demand for multi-use shopping malls. Because of increased vacancies from anchor store failure, edutainers also don’t have to worry about purchasing land or creating infrastructure for their business—it’s a win-win situation.

 

But shopping malls don’t have to go so far as full-fledged edutainment centers to increase foot traffic. Spaces filled not only with art, but immersive art and displays, are the most likely to attract and keep visitors around. Brands and commercial spaces are catching onto the idea of placemaking by using interactive and immersive art to engage and educate audiences about their products. To create a narrative for the new Ford Fiesta, Ford created a pitch-black maze to create a tactile experience and a 360º mapping projection to virtually immerse viewers in the new model.

 

North American retail outlets are catching up to new immersive technologies to offer shoppers mall experiences that they can’t achieve at home or through e-commerce. Interactive mirrors, navigation touch-screens platforms, robots, augmented reality displays and smartphone apps are being adopted by shopping malls to create an emotive, participatory experience for consumers. Interactive technologies like apps also help malls keep track of foot traffic and find out what’s working.

 

What is the future of shopping malls as public spaces?

Ironically, the future of shopping malls relies on a combination of both emerging and traditional values: creating interactive, engaging experiences through technology, and using them to foster a sense of connection and community that malls seem to have lost since their inception.

 

If malls hope to survive, they need to invest in non-retail spaces that involve people and focus on community-centric marketing and placemaking. Without necessarily investing in massive edutainment ventures or technologies, the return of investing in public art and displays is huge, even if its main purpose is merely to raise the space’s profile and attract foot traffic. Much to the reprieve of shopping malls, the demand for non-retail experiences is still very much alive and well, even if brick-and-mortar retail is on the decline as an exclusive use of space. 

Five Takeaways from Discover Tectoria 2018

Viatec’s 2018 Discover Tectoria event was a friendly and engaging introduction for Limbic Media’s new marketing team. Having seen Victoria’s vibrant tech sector with fresh eyes, here are our main takeaways from Friday’s exhibition of Victoria’s emerging and established companies.

 

1. Interactivity is king

Nestled in Discover Tectoria’s Creativity Hub, most foot traffic seemed to flock to booths with elements of interactivity. Limbic Media’s Aurora tent invited visitors of all ages into a meditative, darkened space to make music and translate their creativity into a visual experience. Next door, FIRST Robotics BC opened up a floor space for people to engage with robotic vehicles. The most intriguing sound over the event’s wall of voices came from Monkey C Interactive. With little instruction, the interactive Registroid forced people to explore sounds and become their own artist. Also present in the Creativity Hub was Studio Robazzo, helping bring forward the role of technology in art, emphasizing how tech and art are really one and the same. Discover Tectoria succeeds in creating more avenues for audiences of all ages to participate in the creative process.

 

 

 

2. Tech is a kid-centric industry

Even though Discover Tectoria provides ample opportunity to network whether you’re an investor, an existing tech company, or looking for a new career, Discover Tectoria builds on elements of interactivity by involving kids and their role in tech. Outside the Creativity Hub, Discover Tectoria focused on edutainment in The Combustion Chamber by showcasing technologies and experiments for families through presentations and audience involvement, and Engineering for Kids took a more of an industry-specific approach to kick-starting young interest in tech. Discover Tectoria is a venue that recognizes the importance of getting young minds churning early, and highlighting tech that all ages can relate to.

 

3. Victoria’s tech industry is becoming ever more visible 

Discover Tectoria is widening the industry’s audience not only for kids, but for all walks of life. Even just four years ago, the influence of the tech industry in Victoria’s economy wasn’t necessarily all that obvious. Unless you were looking for it, the number of vibrant technology companies gracing downtown office space wasn’t visible—but in a short time, the sector has emerged as the city’s top industry, and events like Discover Tectoria are making that fact widely known to the public. The average tech conference bustles with entrepreneurs, startups, press and VCs. Discover Tectoria stands out by making the public of all ages its primary audience. It encourages people to participate and discover what goes on in our city behind the long-standing face of tourism and government.

4. We need to start thinking of Victoria more as a city and less as a town

Victoria is a tight community, and its tech community is even tighter-this is part of what makes Victoria so appealing. However, it also puts us in danger of staying in a “tourist town” mentality by telling the same old Victorian story over and over. Because of rapid growth in recent years, both in population, real-estate, and industries like tech, Victoria is going through growing pains and developing new identities. We are no longer the flowery city of the newly-wed and nearly dead. Discover Tectoria makes it clear that the tech industry is helping change the face of our narrative, putting us on the map globally as a city on the forefront of technology and culture.

 

5. Victoria’s various sectors need to strengthen their partnerships 

Speaking of tourism and the growth of Victoria’s industries, an audience member posed a pertinent question during the Innovation Theatre talk on Creative Storytelling: What are some examples of how the tech and hospitality industries have collaborated in Victoria?

Although there have been a number of initiatives bridging tech and tourism in Victoria in the last couple years, the ensuing pause said a lot about the visibility of that collaboration, especially between tourism and Victoria’s authentic cultural and arts scene. According to the speakers, Victoria’s various industries often feel like they’re still competing in spite of newly formed partnerships. Discover Tectoria provided a public forum that clearly has open arms to outside industries, given the opportunity to join forces. The overall message was simple: ”Come talk to us. We have lots of ideas and we can make them happen.”

Whether or not last Friday’s exhibition was your first Discover Tectoria, the event had something new for everyone—from toddlers interacting with tech edutainment, to investors checking out emerging local companies, to Limbic’s marketing team getting familiarized with our city’s vibrant tech community. Victoria is a unique climate of rapidly growing industries, and Viatec’s event was an inviting summary of the potential 2018 has to bring for our city’s tech sector.

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