Westfield woos customers with digital makeover of mall experience

Mall operators are countering retail store closures with digital technologies and new partnerships. At Westfield, that includes digital signage, smart parking and Uber deliveries.

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It wasn't long ago that mall operators operated as little more than glorified landlords, wooing leading retailers to their lofty digs and getting out of the way. But in a world disrupted by Amazon.com and its long tail of rivals, mall operators are feeling the trickle-down effect of falling foot traffic at many brick-and-mortar brands they host.

Westfield Corp., which manages $32 billion in assets spanning 35 shopping centers in the U.S. and U.K., is seeking to improve its fortunes with digital signs, sensors and analytics that can help provide personalized recommendations, according to CIO Denise Taylor. Taylor, who joined the company in 2015, says adding new digital technologies and brand partners will redefine the consumer experience, buoying prospects for both Westfield and its roughly 6,400 retailers.

It's a bold but necessary gambit. Retail kings J.C. Penney, RadioShack, Macy’s and Sears have all closed more than 100 stores in 2017, leaving some serious square footage in U.S. malls. Showrooming, in which consumers browse in stores only to purchase merchandise online, often on the spot, continues to haunt big brands. And consumers who once eschewed ordering apparel online are now doing so in droves, as sizing and 3D visualization technologies improve.

Betting big on new brands, tech

To counter the closure of retailers crushed by ecommerce, mall operators have been luring different kinds of retail partners, including fine-dining restaurants, gym chains and entertainment concepts, such as bowling and miniature golf. Believing such services will make its mall more inviting destinations, Westfield hosts an Equinox gym, movie theater and fine-dining options in its flagship Century City, Calif., location. It is also turning to digital technologies to draw tech-savvy millennials and others.

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