Since its opening in 1992, the Mall of America has been the nation’s greatest example of the power of brick-and-mortar retail – millions of square feet of stores attracting millions of visitors a year, even in the midst of the explosive growth of online shopping.
Then, very quietly last summer, the mall itself went into e-commerce.
To provide an alternative to in-person travel to the mall, the Mall of America launched Shop MOA, a tool on its website that allows customers to search for merchandise across inventories across multiple mall stores. A purchase can be delivered or picked up at the mall.
“We’re such a huge mall that we always struggle with a customer who doesn’t know everything we do and all the products and all the retailers we have,” said Grant Buntje, vice president of marketing for the Mall of America. “So it allows them to search that inventory and find out before the trip and even without coming to the mall.”
The platform started with a pilot of ten stores at the beginning of August in preparation for the start of the school year. Now it has over 70, and there are plans to add more. The online tool has been heralded as a new way to modernize US malls.
The sales volume is still relatively low. Mall of America executives said Shop MOA completed more than 100 transactions during the holiday.
On the Shop MOA site, consumers can search by store, by category as well as by typing in a particular product, such as “long black skirt”. A customer can add the item to their cart or wishlist and continue to search and purchase other selections from other stores.
After checking out, a customer can choose whether they want to pick up their order at the mall or have it delivered. A team of Mall of America paid shoppers collects items from stores and prepares them for pickup or delivery. The mall contracts with a third-party company to deliver the items within a 15-mile radius of the mall.
With over 500 stores, the Mall of America can be a daunting place to find a specific item.
“Having to wade through five million square feet of space, let’s face it, is a terrible experience when you’re on a search-and-destroy mission,” said Anne Mezzenga, co-founder of Retail Insight blog and podcast Omni Talk and local Third Haus retail lab.
In recent years, Mall of America executives have worked to make the mall easier to navigate. In 2017, the mall launched nearly 100 digital store directories where customers could enter a store or category and get step-by-step directions to the store from that location in the mall.
The mall said the project, developed by local digital solutions company Express Image, was “the first of its size and scope”. Just one month after beginning installation of directory kiosks, Mall of America saw the average “wait time” for directories drop from over three minutes to 30 to 40 seconds.
Prior to the pandemic, the mall began discussions on how to enable online shopping from multiple stores through a single service. The mall eventually contracted with Canadian artificial intelligence company Adeptmind, which developed inventory search capabilities for retailers like Ulta Beauty, to develop the platform.
Over the past two years, Adeptmind has been working on different ways for malls and retailers to allow customers to research their inventory and plan their trips. As of last year, it had about 50 malls on some versions of their product discovery platforms.
Back in March, Adeptmind introduced an even more crucial step, the ability to complete a purchase with products from multiple stores in one shopping cart.
Individual retailers have been focused on merging their physical and digital interactions with consumers for the past five years or so. But malls have fallen far behind, relying on people to get to their physical locations to shop.
During the pandemic, malls began offering curbside pickup options. However, shoppers still had to purchase the products online from several different stores.
“Taking this approach to really blending their physical center with the digital offering of being able to search each store and find local inventory from different stores, plan your trip to the center and buy everything in one shopping cart, pick up products curbside or have them delivered, it’s a unique piece…for them trying to stay innovative and be at the forefront of this change,” Jesse Michael, CEO of Adeptmind, said in an interview. .
A handful of malls, including the Mall of America, have e-commerce capabilities developed by Adeptmind. The Mall of America has the most vendors on its platform among all other malls. By July, Adeptmind plans to launch another 10 commerce platforms in other malls across the country.
Data from the Mall of America and other malls has already shown a promising start, Michael said. About 10% of customers come to the point of adding something to their shopping wish list. For sites that allow people to make purchases, about 2.5% of all traffic does so.
The Mall of America plans to add more vendors to the Shop MOA platform this year, including merchandise from some of its vendors only found in the mall like Nickelodeon Universe. It also plans to expand the delivery radius to include more Twin Cities.
Later, mall executives would like everything sold at the mall, including food, to be offered on the site. But there are logistical challenges to overcome, said Buntje, of the mall’s marketing team.
Mall of America retailers do not pay to be on the platform. But as sales volumes increase, the mall is considering different revenue models to be able to maintain service, Buntje said.
Guy Booth, manager of the LLBean store in the mall, said that while his store already has its own curbside pickup service, Shop MOA offers another convenient solution.
“It’s no workload for us as a tenant other than helping a customer like we always would,” Booth said.
This new digital tool will only help improve the mall’s sales figures and boost brand visibility within the mall, including smaller, lesser-known businesses, said Mezzenga, who also co-manages the shopping portal. online Urban Rooster, which offers local products. small enterprises.
Not only will malls benefit from this technology, but shopping districts like 50th and France will also benefit, said Mezzenga, who tested the Shop MOA service by having clothes delivered to his office.
“It doesn’t mean the decline of the physical mall,” she said. “It’s just that the mall is finally catching up.”