This weekend I broke one of my cardinal rules about Christmas shopping that I have followed for this entire century. I went to the Mall! Not just any mall, I went to my former “home mall” where I knew every square inch of and every store. I thought it would be just like riding a bike, a quick humor swing through Spencer Gifts, fuel up with an Orange Julius, then finish up with Structure and G.Fox for some quality clothing. I couldn’t help but think of Gilligan’s Island as my “quick shopping trip” on the way home from my sister’s house turned into a three hour ordeal.
In the past 10 years a lot has changed! I am a different shopper, the mall is a different place, the retail “experience” itself is very different. I have become accustomed to online and specialty store shopping. I like to get educated, get in, and get out. No browsing and no perusing! I know there is an entire world out there containing the object of my gift-giving desire and the mall or store that I am in can either give me a way to buy it or not….I am not buying something else just because they have it. To counter the stubborn shopper like myself stores have brought their game up a notch and hired retail marketing and research firms to direct shoppers through carefully constructed mazes designed to break down the guard of people like me which serves to only infuriate me as I try to weave my way past my sharp-elbowed fellow denizens. Others have set up online presences that offer everything under the sun.
More progressive retailers are unifying this strategy with a bricks and clicks model where the store’s entire inventory is available for purchase through an in-store portal like a kiosk sometimes with the assistance of store personnel. Borders booksellers has been using this model for years and apparently it has worked well for them since they are still in business. Instead of adding a few more books to their inventory they allow customers to search books using a variety of parameters and return matching titles some of which are available only online. The well trained staff (who are never far from someone doing a search) can direct you to any titles that are available in-store or suggest something along a similar vein. This makes me and the store happy, I get what I want or get something close enough that I am not angry with the store for wasting my time, and as a reward to us both I buy one of those overpriced chocolate balls. This is how I wind up deleting 50 emails from them every year. They engaged me in person with a quality shopping environment and I repaid them with something resembling loyalty.
I’m 36 and can remember when not being able to read a map could really put a damper on your teenage freedom. My friends and I learned to drive and explore before commercial GPS systems and after people working at gas stations had any idea where any of the roads around them went. Maps were the only way. At a Mall, I just find my store at the bottom and follow the map this works for me for others….not so much, map reading is a lost skill. If you are old enough to understand the map…you are too blind to read it from more than a few feet away! In all seriousness the lightbox style of map should be dead by now they are bland, hard to read, and if I am paying $50/sf I want something more than 14 point orange font directing cash-heavy consumers to my store. High quality, dynamic digital signage should be the norm. Searchable by store, brand, item type, you name it, it is all very simple for a good digital signage system. Even if the signage is underutilized it lends an air of modernity to the mall that resonates with younger shoppers used to staring at high-res screens. There may be no better value for a mall operator than to create an atmosphere of respect for shoppers’ time by making it easy for them to quickly find what they are looking for. In spite of their inability to read maps shoppers of today are phenomenal searchers of information. Information booths are fine, but they are expensive to staff and take up floor space that should be generating revenue. Using digital signage and self serve kiosks to keep these shoppers in the hunt is the very least operators can do for their renters in this competitive retail environment.
Back to the Mall of Horrors. Upon entry, I realized that about the only thing that hasn’t changed at my home mall is the directory. It was a nightmare, not only could I not get a good look at it through all of the gray, white, and occasionally purple hair of the diverse shopping population crowding the fine print but even when I could I didn’t recognize many of the stores and the categories are generally useless. The only category that Hot Topic and Macy’s should share is “STORE”. So I was forced to forage for gifts like a Paleolithic hunter gatherer hoping to make the big kill while subsisting on stocking stuffers and other items of questionable merit. Did the mall provide value to their retailers? No, the experience was very frustrating and those retailers will not be seeing me again for another 10 years. Did the retailers provide value to me? No, in fact, I will not shop at any of them now out of spite for wasting my two hours. Did I provide revenue to the retailers? Not really, I spent about $19 there. I will spend 10 times that amount at amazon.com and buy.com had any of them made an effort to engage me as a customer, get my online dollar or at least email address, that fact may change but instead they chose to cling to a dying model. The question is, will you miss your chance? What will your customers say to themselves at the end of their two hour ordeal? Hopefully not what I said, and hopefully there are no children around to hear it!
Mike Masone is Sales Manager at Slabb Inc. Manufacturer and distributor of Digital Signage and Interactive Kiosks. For more information see the white paper : http://www.kioskmarketplace.com/whitepapers/2775/Converting-E-Commerce-Websites-to-Self-Service-Kiosks