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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.

 

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.

 

Photo: Marina Nazario/ Business Insider

 

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.

 

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.

 

Photo: Business Wire

 

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.

 

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.

 

Photo: brandchannel

 

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. 

 

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: Matthew Carasella/Bloomingdale’s

 

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 placemaking and drawing in customers.

 

Photo: Patrick Bingham-Hall

 

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.

 

7. Experiential-only Retailers

The Grand Front, a six-story 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.

 

Photos: Active Lab

 

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 large aging 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 a basic conversation. The robot is useful for 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 

With an increased move to e-commerce, fearful 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.

 

Recent numbers show that only 11.6% of retail sales occur in an online marketplace.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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 ROI 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 mural 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.

 

…not investing in the impact of public space is sacrificing the very element of shopping malls that is key to their survival.

 

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 is 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 more. 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 Santa

 

The 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 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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