Friday, December 2nd, 2016 | 7 min read
As a kid, I’d often hear about the wonders of hanging out at the mall. Teenagers would walk around and window shop, check out the sales, swing by the food court, and do a whole lot of nothing. Lately, though, as online shopping has exploded in popularity, people are discussing whether the shopping mall is dead. But is that really the case?
There are extra costs (financial and time) of going shopping in a mall. You have to get there, find parking, walk between stores, and then get yourself (and your new items) home.
That said, there are “costs” associated with online shopping as well. You have to pay for shipping and wait for your package to arrive. If the item doesn’t fit or doesn’t look like you expected, you have to mail it back, which can be a hassle – and isn’t always free.
What if there was a way to have the best of both worlds? What if we could save the mall experience by using technology and incorporating the advantages of online shopping?
Here are four ways that it’s possible.
Brands need to fully understand the quality of their in-store shopping experience. Ironically, one way to do that is by analyzing relevant online conversation – what people are saying on their social networks.
By listening for how people feel about shopping in their stores, companies can make small-but-important improvements to brick-and-mortar locations.
If customers are complaining about the lighting in the dressing room, for example, brands can make the easy fix. If there is grumbling on social about long lines at a certain time of day, a company can know that it needs to add a few employees to the floor.
Additionally, companies can see how they stack up against the competition by analyzing the sentiment of social conversations around their peers. If customers of a competitor are tweeting about how great its customer service is, rival companies can use that information to make necessary improvements.
By paying attention to online social conversation and applying it to the offline shopping experience, brands can decrease the “costs” associated with in-person shopping and bolster the overall customer experience.
Online shopping sites include technology that recognizes when a customer is about to exit a product page without making a purchase. The site will display a discount on the item or offer free shipping, in hopes that the deal will spur a purchase. In the same vein, sites typically provide suggested items based on the user’s interests.
Stores in shopping malls should consider similar techniques to improve the in-person shopping experience.
93% of millennials use a mobile device while shopping in stores. Brands can harness this by engaging customers with beacon technology and creating seamless, delightful customer experiences.
Just as the discount window pops up as people are about to leave a product page, beacon technology can enable brands to send a discount to customers who are about to walk out of their store.
Imagine that an entire mall has beacon technology integrated within an app. When a customer enters, the app can display deals at nearby stores, allow the customer to search for discounts at particular locations, or suggest items based on the customer’s shopping history.
With a better sense of what items and bargains are available, customers will be able to cut down the time they spend roaming the mall – making for a much more enjoyable in-person experience.
Say a shopper orders a coat online, and it turns out to be much thinner than expected. This reflects one of the biggest differences between shopping online and in-store: the inability to try on items that you buy online.
Imagine if customers could try on garments in the store, and using the company’s app, buy the clothes that they’ve just tried on with their mobile device. The brand could offer free shipping if the person buys in-store, and a couple days later the garment would arrive at the shopper’s door.
The item fits perfectly, and the customer doesn’t have to wrangle a bunch of bags all the way home.
This approach would be particularly useful for the holiday season, when people go to multiple stores and end up with a massive pile of bags. A shopper could buy a few things at many different stores, and not have to worry about toting everything home (or telling their family to avert their eyes when they walk through the door).
When shopping online, many people (myself included) fill their carts with items they’re interested in, and whittle down the cart size once they’re done perusing the site.
What if the online experience was so integrated with the offline that a customer could fill their virtual shopping cart on the company’s mobile app, then have the items waiting for them when they visit a brick-and-mortar location, perhaps for a small fee?
They could select a day for the in-store visit, and employees could stock the dressing room with all of the items – and maybe even throw in some accessories.
This would be another effective way to cut down the time of mall visits, and attract more shoppers for whom impatience is the primary reason for avoiding in-store shopping.
If malls were to combine the best aspects of shopping online with the in-store experience, the costs associated with visiting in-person locations would decrease. In-store engagement would rise, experiences would be seamless, and brands could understand their customers even better with more continual customer data.
If we rethink the way we separate online and offline experiences and find a way to integrate them, maybe we could improve both – and return to the days when people liked hanging out at the mall.