Shopping malls need to discover the digital version of food and coffee

I remember, it was about 10 years ago, that I watched the slow demise of my local shopping strip. All the eager shoppers and browsers had migrated to the new shopping complex a few kilometres away. It was shiny and new, had recruited all the top name brand brands and had a good peppering of food and coffee options.

But now, the shiny, new shopping complex is not so shiny and new and I can foresee a potential new cycle of demise – if nothing changes.

Originally, shopping complexes and shopping malls, offered customers convenience – everything in one place, easy parking and entertainment options.

It’s not news that online shopping is starting to erode physical shopping. It offers both a price and convenience advantage. So what can traditional malls and complexes do to ensure they survive and thrive?

Certainly, technology offers options, but I’m not talking about targeted offers delivered through the centres’ wi-fi network or other techniques whose direct aim is driving sales.

For me, the best starting point is for shopping centres to think about how they can create experiences and engage customers. If you attract customers, and give them a reason to stay, they are likely to end up buying something.

So think about the function of and coffee and food in the shopping centre. They provide an experience and an opportunity to socialise or take time out. For the centre: it works in terms of keeping people longer.

But given the need to compete for the time of tech-savvy shoppers, how can you leverage digital technology to attract and engage customers?

In my role at Engagis, I am lucky enough to see how customers use our digital media, and personally, I get quite excited about digital signage, interactive kiosks and holograms, but they are just tools – it’s how they are used and the content that’s the important part.

I saw an application recently where a shopping mall used a number of holographic displays for attracting the attention of children, but they constructed a highly involving game – with prizes – around the holograms which set the children on a path of discovery around the mall. This created a fun experience and it also meant that the whole family stayed longer at the shopping centre.

So my advice is – don’t get lost in the technology, try to understand what digital media tools are available, but more importantly, put yourself in the shoes of your customers. How can you create experiences that will encourage them to come to, and spend time in your shopping centre?