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[13 comments]

Apps Promise to End Retail Parking Hassles

December 3, 2013

Frustrated with finding a parking spot at the mall? There's an app for that.

As part of its Black Friday coverage, The New York Times last week profiled a number of parking apps that help shoppers with the chore of parking. With ParkMe, Parkopedia, ParkWhiz, Parking Spot, Parker and other apps, drivers may locate parking spots in shopping mall parking lots, nearby garages, or even city streets. In some locations, a spot can be reserved. In most cases, mall garages are outfitted with sensors that track cars going in and out to keep a tally on vacant spots.

Many apps also alert drivers to the closest and least expensive lots, as well as alternative garage entrances. QuickPay is among those that help shoppers pay for garage and metered spots and valet services from their smartphones.

Taubman Centers has installed sensors in the garages in two of its centers to show shoppers which floors they can find open parking spots. Installation costs $50,000 to $100,000 per location. Simon Property Group offers a free app that helps shoppers locate their parked car.

"They want real-time information, they want price choices and they want to be directed to an open space," Casey Jones, VP of institutional services at Standard Parking, a Chicago-based provider of parking facility management services, told the Times.

In Minneapolis, The Mall of America's mobile website provides live traffic information for the highways surrounding the mall and driving directions. The parking portion of the mobile web app includes a color system that lays over the parking lots: green means available; yellow is for congested; and red is busy. An alert icon also indicates if there's an accident or construction in a specific area.

 

The Mall of America also uses Twitter to inform visitors about mall parking conditions.

"While most people think of cost in monetary terms, there's also a cost in the amount of time you spend looking for something," Akshay Rao, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, told the Post-Bulletin. "If your total available mall shopping time is two hours, and your driving and parking time is 30 minutes, it reduces the amount of time you have to spend at the mall by 30 minutes."

Discussion Questions:

How important is parking to consumers' perceptions of a retail store or shopping center? What solutions, either high or low tech, that you have seen or heard about hold the greatest promise for making it easier for shoppers to park in store or shopping center lots?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How important is parking to consumers' perceptions of a retail store or shopping center?

Comments:

When educating clients on UX/CX I always explain that the entire CX (customer experience) matters. That includes every aspect from the moment a potential customer considers making a purchase through fulfillment, and post fulfillment support. Seemingly unrelated, parking is indeed a factor in that journey, especially at holiday time. So anything that can improve CX, like easing parking frustrations, is a good thing and something that will ultimately contribute to brand loyalty and the bottom line.

Any venue that can offer both free valet parking and parking (app) technologies will have the best likelihood of making that part of the customer experience more enjoyable.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Parking, like clean restrooms, is an essential part of the shopping experience. Easy access to parking reduces hassle and stress and saves time. The investments that malls are making to alert and direct consumers to open spaces is well worth the cost.

I like the Park Me app to assist in finding open spaces around Los Angeles. When combined with the SigAlert and Beat The Traffic traffic monitoring apps, it makes driving in our notorious traffic a bit easier.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

What many retail stores seem to forget is that for the consumer, their "experience" is the complete journey, end to end. It's not just the purchase experience in store.

Parking has to be one of the major challenges and negative aspects of shopping stores during the holiday season. Malls in particular would do well to have their own apps that make finding a parking space easier.

The consumer journey actually starts online. It would be very interesting if the parking status and opportunities for malls and stores could begin there. A promotion for valet parking or a guaranteed parking space could be tested in terms of "hassle free parking" impact on both traffic and conversion rates for a store, or group of stores.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

One of my favorite grocery stores is Trader Joe's. That said, there have been numerous occasions over the years where I've chosen to go elsewhere to avoid the hassle of the local store's parking lot.

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George Anderson, Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher, RetailWire LLC

Just a little story about parking. I used to avoid my local Kroger because the parking lot was a disaster. I had no idea why it was such a hassle, it was certainly big enough, or so it seemed to me.

A couple years back they redid the parking lot and changed all the slots from diagonal into straight pull ins. They created more than one exit path within the lot. No size changes, no new entrances or exits to the street. OMG, it made a world of difference and now I shop there again.

Does parking make a difference? You betcha!

Lee Kent, Brings Retail Executives Together to Meet.Learn.Profit, RetailConnections

When shopping during peak times of the year, parking convenience is of paramount concern for shoppers. Surveys have shown that shoppers will drive past stores that have poor parking conditions to shop at stores with more convenient choices for parking. I think some of these apps have potential, while the biggest determining factor remains the physical layout of the parking facility. Regardless of how easy the app is to use, I still won't shop at a store that is impossible to get to during heavy traffic times.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

Not being able to find a parking space at my favorite retail store or mall dulls my perception of why I choose to go there. So I go elsewhere. Thus, easier access to a parking space determines where I travel.

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

To be contrary - wow, an app that just helps you find parking? I wonder how many people will really select their destination based on a parking app vs shopping at their favorite store, or coming to get a promoted item? I agree that during those few really busy times it would be nice to know the parking situation, but who is really going to download and keep an app on their phone just for that?

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Peter J. Charness, SVP America, Global CMO, TXT Group

Parking, i.e. crowds are the major reason I am not a Black Friday weekend shopper. I am one who wants to go into a store, see what I want, buy it, and leave.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

I had the opportunity to review a couple of these parking solutions at the ICSC RECon retail real estate event last winter and I was impressed by their potential. They can turn the mall parking facility from a dreary, and sometimes forbidding place into a smart, efficient and positive extension of the shopping experience.

Fully configured solutions put sensors in every parking space; smart signage at every entrance and turn; and a mobile app on every opt-in phone. Paid systems can incorporate the digital equivalent of parking meters. All systems can guide a shopper to the nearest space upon arrival and then help them back to their vehicles after the fun is over.

The goal is to minimize shopper stress and win more trips. The same principles and methods make these systems terrific for the intimidating parking structures and vast lots at airports and sports arenas, too.

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James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies

Online is not just a threat to B&M stores, but also to the malls/shopping centers that house the B&M stores. Anything and everything they do to make the experience of shopping at the malls/sopping centers good is welcome and much needed.

Parking is one of the biggest grouses customers have, especially during the holiday seasons. Parking apps certainly help, but they can only give information. How about providing free parking, engaging free valet service, remote parking with free shuttle services? How about all malls/shopping centers in a particular area ganging up and offering shuttle services between their individual locations?

Ever seen parents dragging along kids through malls during the shopping frenzy during holidays? How about supervised play areas (like the ones IKEA has)? The problem malls/shopping centers have in providing these services is that they are mainly needed during peak shopping days but is a dead investment during other days of the year. Temporary solutions probably work better.

Arun Channakrishnaiah, Sr. Manager, Accenture

The Amazon series, "Betas" on Silicon Valley startups pokes fun at a parking app called "Valet Me" and the company behind it.

Check it out for a good laugh.

Bobby Martyna, President and CEO, Tradavo, Inc

When someone crashes into me at the mall because they were looking at their parking app instead of the road, I will not be happy.

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Jonathan Marek, Senior Vice President, Applied Predictive Technologies

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