Mall will give shoppers new digital tools
Justine Griffin/Sarasota Herald-Tribune
When its Mall at University Town Center debuts in October 2014, co-developer Taubman Centers Inc. will operate one of the most technologically advanced retail spots in the nation.
The company plans to use the retail hub as a testing ground for new digital, interactive tools aimed at combating online shopping and “showrooming,” where shoppers use brick-and-mortar stores to try out products before buying them online.
With new smartphone technology and a Wi-Fi network that will be installed throughout the planned $315 million mall, University Town Center shoppers will receive special discounts via apps developed in conjunction with retailers.
“Unlike our older properties that were designed and built before Wi-Fi was available, UTC will have interactive features built in, giving shoppers a whole new kind of experience,” Stephen Kieras, Taubman’s senior vice president of development, said at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual ReCon convention. “They will set the mall apart from any other shopping center in the country,” Kieras said.
Eventually, the technology will be installed in every new mall Taubman builds, as well as existing centers, he said.
Although the specific technology that Taubman and co-developer Benderson Development Co. will employ at the 880,000-square-foot mall is still in early stages of development, Kieras said shoppers who register through a smartphone app or online with the mall will get personalized offers influenced by previous purchases.
“So if you bought a pair of jeans at The Gap, the next time you come into the mall we’ll be able to offer you personalized sales based on what it was you bought at a retailer in the mall before,” he said.
Traditional brick-and-mortar stores have struggled in recent years to compete with aggressively expanding online retail merchants like Amazon and eBay.
In response, some chains have turned to so-called “hybrid shopping,” which blends the convenience of online buying with the tactile satisfaction of being able to sample a product before committing to a purchase.
During the 2012 holiday season, Sarasota-area Best Buy stores allowed customers to scan price codes on all merchandise to compare prices elsewhere via the chain’s mobile app.
Chains like Walmart, Target and Toys R Us, too, have begun matching competitors’ prices. This, in turn, has further encouraged more shoppers to use their phones within stores stores.
Taubman’s efforts to draw shoppers to its malls may also have received a boost earlier this month when the Senate passed a bill that would make it easier for states to collect sales tax from online purchases.
To date, most Web-based retailers have not collected tax, and many customers have ignored requirements to do so in the few states where the practice applies.
Florida failed to collect an estimated $455 million in sales tax in 2012 stemming from online sales, according to a study by Alliance for Main Street Fairness, an industry group comprising brick-and- mortar merchants.
Retail analyst Jeff Green, who also is attending the ICSC event, said that the budding interest in blending new technology with traditional retail development shows that physical stores — and malls themselves — won’t become dinosaurs anytime soon.
Green added that attendance at the ICSC event, where retailers and developers gather to ink leases or commitments for new centers and malls, also bodes well for traditional shopping centers.
“It tells me that ecommerce is not having as great of an impact on brick-and-mortar as feared, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people looking to do brick-and-mortar leases and deals,” he said.
Taubman’s Kieras said the interactive features for the University Town Center mall are being developed now to be ready when the project opens.
The Michigan-based developer is also working with retailers to come up with best practices for same-day shipping, which would allow shoppers to try items in stores and have them shipped to them directly if a size, color or model is not on the shelves or racks at a given site.
Anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Dillard’s department stores, University Town Center is the only new enclosed mall scheduled to open next year in the U.S.
But its technological impact could spread throughout Taubman’s portfolio of properties nationwide.
That is because after University Town Center opens, the interactive program will likely be installed in other Taubman centers, which, in this region, include Tampa’s International Plaza and Orlando’s Mall at Millenia.
It also will be a part of future Taubman projects.
In all, Taubman is developing nine new malls worldwide, though only University Town Center and a property in San Juan, Puerto Rico, are under construction.