In most shopping malls, walking up to the store directory map remains a pretty analog experience. Even if the map is mounted on a shiny glass display, and even if it’s colour-coded into easy-to-find blocks with numbers, a little dot saying “You are here” is about as personalized and contextual as it gets. For a retail facility the size of the West Edmonton Mall (WEM), clearly that’s not enough, and its CIO knows it.
“A lot of first-time shoppers come in and they’re intimidated by the size of this mall,” Schuldhaus said, noting Triple Five Group of Companies doesn’t just rent out stores but actually owns and operates a waterpark, as well as food and beverage services, which means it is dealing directly with customers. “We wanted to make sure we had a platform that gave us some roadmap capabilities for making that experience (of navigating the mall) quite different as we go, and not requiring us to always go to third parties to have features added in.
The project is already paying off in several ways, not least of which is Schuldhaus and Triple Five winning a 2015 CIO Impact Award from Frost & Sullivan. Shortly before heading to San Francisco to pick up his trophy, Schuldhaus offered CanadianCIO a behind-the-scenes look at how the directory kiosk works, the path to get it launched and a sense of how it could evolve over time.
No more waiting behind someone else or awkwardly trying to squeeze in next to them to look for a store. The kiosk is wide enough to accommodate two guests, who can each conduct their own searches using the touch-screen display. Once they’ve identified the store they want, an app will provide them turn-by-turn navigation on their smartphone. If the store in question is offering a special sale or coupon, these can be distributed to mobile devices, too. The kiosks also support near-field communication (NFC) and QR codes, which mean other kinds of digital interactions can be integrated into the experience.
Although there are lots of ways to potentially measure the success of something like the directory kiosk, Schuldhaus said Triple Five was going for three specific differentiators.
“We wanted to have a kiosk that wasn’t necessarily a shopping tool but something where you could use it as a way to find a store and get moving,” he said. In that sense, mission accomplished: In the first four months, there have been more than 50,000 searches on a single kiosk (there are plans to install 12 across the WEM).
On the other hand, the kiosk offers more than just directions. Based on what you’re looking for, the ads served on the screen will change accordingly. That means marketing campaigns can be much more relevant.
“If I’m a woman and searching for a handbag or in ladieswear categories, maybe a handbag ad or something in that category for those kinds of items would come up and be targeted to that specific search,” he said. “The idea was, why not offer those marketing opportunities in a curated way, so they’re not just getting some ad randomly?”
The second differentiator was to ensure smartphones or other mobile devices carried by visitors would serve as a “second screen” for the kiosk. This spring, Schuldhaus said the WEM will be launching a new app that works with Apple’s iBeacon technology. That way, as someone is doing a search, information about a route or coupon offer is being shared instantly between an iBeacon inside the kiosk and the app.
“It’s just a more frictionless way of engaging the consumer, so they don’t have to repeat those steps on their mobile device,” he said. “There’s some intelligence between the two to give them that experience.”
The third differentiator is a tenant-facing app that retailers can include on mobile devices used by staff. In essence, if someone searches for a store via the kiosk or gets a coupon offer as part of that experience, the retailer will get a sort of head’s up to prepare as a potential customer walks in.
“They can start that dialogue in a more defined way without having to ask, ‘How did you see the ad?’” he said. “Then say, ‘Let me show you what you’re looking for. It’s in this aisle.’” The end result, he said, could be a much higher level of customer service.
Incidentally, Triple Five has installed 510 access points in the WEM, meaning it has more control over the Wi-Fi it provides throughout the premises as it expands mobile capabilities, Schuldhaus said.
In other words, even though it’s winning awards today, the WEM’s directory kiosk may soon have a lot more in store.