Social Networking for Malls

Aug 11, 2009
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

The Mall at Robinson
in Pittsburgh on August 8 became the latest mall property to launch on
the social networking website, Shoptopia. Created by Mallfinder Network, Shoptopia
describes itself as the first online shopping portal designed to drive
traffic to local shopping centers.

Similar to other
social networking sites, users sign up to create profiles and personalize
their shopping preferences. They discover, collect and organize favorite
products with Shoptopia Lists; seek the opinions of like-minded shoppers
and share a shopping experience with family and friends in the Talk section.
Shoppers can peruse all major categories including, Women’s Fashion, Men’s
Fashion, Kids, Gadgets, Home, Health & Beauty, and Eco-Green.

Where the malls
come in is that once a user creates a profile identifying their preferences,
they may receive exclusive perks and deals from malls such as The Mall
at Robinson affiliated with the program, as well as from Shoptopia. Retailers
can also provide these frequent shoppers with the product information and
promotions that are relevant to them, the service promises. In its collateral,
Shoptopia suggests stores can promote store sales, new merchandise, in-store
events, as well as offer giveaways and prizes for special events and programs
to its users.

“Shoptopia helps
us build relationships with customers and provides them with information
about the retailers and promotions that are specifically relevant to them,” said
Shema Krinsky, marketing director, The Mall at Robinson, in a statement. “This
allows us to translate the online shopping experience into a trip to the
mall for people who love the experience of shopping in a store.”

Shoptopia was
first launched last October for four shopping centers: Short Pump Town
Center in Richmond, VA; Galleria at Sunset in Las Vegas; the Promenade Temecula
in California; and the Mall at Stonecrest in Lithonia, GA. It’s also being
launched at the Charleston Town Center in Charleston, WV. Mallfinder plans
to have 25 properties using the service before the 2009 holiday shopping

“When using more
than one channel to shop for goods, 75 percent of consumers overwhelmingly
prefer to move from online to brick-and-mortar locations,” said John Dee,
president of Mallfinder Network. “We launched Shoptopia to meet the needs
of these consumers and to connect them directly with brands and products
available locally.”

Discussion Questions:
How well do social networking tools apply to malls and shopping centers?
What do you think of Shoptopia?

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15 Comments on "Social Networking for Malls"

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Dick Seesel
11 years 9 months ago

I’m sure that Shopotopia and other sites have a lot to learn about how to drive traffic and sales, but it’s well worth the learning curve. Anything that helps a particular mall (or retailer, or service provider, for that matter) break through the marketing clutter to reach consumers in a more targeted way is a good thing. And sites like Shopotopia are reaching subscribers who are more active and receptive to the message in the first place. It’s easy to see how social networking will provide a very cost-efficient, targeted message to consumers in the near future.

Ryan Mathews
11 years 9 months ago

Social networks work for two reasons: (1) people want to identify with the network: and (2) because the network addresses some real or perceived need. If people strongly identify with a mall and have a need to better organize their shopping, this is a great idea. My bet though is this will appeal to a very small subsegment of shoppers over time.

Dan Raftery
11 years 9 months ago

This concept will be immensely popular with shoppers who want to be efficient and who avoid malls due to the time it takes to find a particular item. It will be ignored by shoppers who derive entertainment from the mall trip and those who believe they can uncover the best deals, most unique fashion, etc, in person. Translation: should bring incremental sales to malls.

Dan Gilmore
Dan Gilmore
11 years 9 months ago

This is clearly a sign that we are near the top of the social networking bubble.

Phil Rubin
11 years 9 months ago

Mallfinder can and will fill a niche in the media and customer communications world in between the proprietary merchant sites and traditional media. Still dying newspaper ROP advertising is reminiscent of the old Saturday Night Live bit that “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!”

The key to Mallfinder’s success will be to have sufficient engagement, not just from shoppers but also from the merchants themselves. There is a ton of data available via social media and the use of that data is still in its infancy. If Mallfinder and its merchant partners use that data and connect it with shoppers transactional data, there is a whole new (and better) world for both the malls and their tenants.

Bob Phibbs
11 years 9 months ago

I applaud the effort to stand out. Social networking is a great tool but this looks like another way to expand the Val-Pak mentality of deals rather than create relationships which is social networking; so initiative: 10, implementation: 0.

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
11 years 9 months ago

I think there’s little question that social media is applicable to malls but I’m not certain that I consider what they’re doing to be a “social network” in the truest sense. It almost seems like a customer/shopper forum. It really depends on the level of un-structured dialogue that’s allowed to take place between members.

The other issue for people will be the manageability of their various social networks and communication platforms. Juggling a Facebook account, email, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc, and then Shoptopia could prove difficult. If they can find a means of integrating Shoptopia into an existing social network, it might be easier for users to remain engaged.

Marge Laney
11 years 9 months ago

I agree with Mr. Phibbs. The retailers will really need to step it up and create an opportunity for the shoppers to interact with their brands locally. That’s tough when you figure the majority of the retailers in these malls are national chains. Most of these chains have a hard enough time creating a consistent cross brand customer experience let alone going one giant step further and localizing that experience. It’s a wonderful idea, but I don’t see it happening.

Doug Fleener
11 years 9 months ago

The challenge as already noted is getting the national retailers to do something special at a local level and not communicate what’s already being promoted at a national level.

This would be a great concept to promote local stores in a downtown association.

Liz Crawford
11 years 9 months ago

Creating a social network for retailers is like one of those free newspapers–it’s more for gaining the revenue of the retailers than attracting eyeballs.

Fish where the fish are: Facebook, MySpace, TeamSugar.

Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson
11 years 9 months ago

I question the effectiveness of this offering. I think that it could create value to individuals who are looking for specials and offers, and potentially the ability to the individual merchants within the mall and not the corporate locations to engage with the consumer, but this will have to be ACTIVELY managed. They will need to make sure all of the communications are relevant, timely, engaging and (to Phil Rubin’s point) in the form (media) and fashion they want to be communicated with.

Communities have to be actively managed or they will fail. The question is whether the mall staff that is already strapped for time and resources will be able to make it “engaging” or just increase the social media clutter.

John Bajorek
John Bajorek
11 years 9 months ago

The question is now if social media will affect malls, the real question is how can malls and retailers leverage social media. The solution in Pittsburgh has definite merit and mobile integration to remind people of pending offers at the mall could complement the current initiative and drive additional purchases. Other retailers like SunGlass Hut have successfully incorporated social media by capture images in-store (people trying on sunglasses) and then enabling them to share the images via email and with Facebook to capture peer feedback. When retailers can position themselves effectively in the conversation is when they become truly social.

Bill Hanifin
11 years 9 months ago

The objective of increasing engagement between the mall and its patrons cannot be disputed. The idea is right, but is the chosen method of execution practical for the long-run?

With existing social networks attracting lots of attention, I wonder if creating a public FB page and Twitter account would have been easier, more cost effective and have more impact.

I think we are reaching limits of how many networks we can join and the decisioning will be akin to closed loop and branded payment cards. Should the merchant group (mall) create its own closed loop social network? Or is it better to join in on existing open loop networks where the action is today?

Not enough companies are effectively using social media tools today. I would counsel that as a first step before trying to establish my own social network.

Chuck Palmer
11 years 9 months ago

If this effort can better inform the localization of assortments and choice and pricing then great, but let us not confuse the consumer further. And when I say “the consumer” I mean the hundreds of segments and buying occasion pairings that drive people to malls. (Not to mention all the other places people buy.)

There are many players in this situation and I believe strongly that when consumers are in the center, and the players share information accordingly truly relevant experiences can be developed.

So, how do we activate the power and potential of tribes? Malls are a great place to facilitate human connections.

Mel Brown
2 years 8 months ago

Although a good idea in theory and a nice idea for online shops, I can just imagine that the most eyeballs will be from other retailers rather than customers. I’m not sure if that’s something I actually want.


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