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Shoppers will come to the new Nebraska Crossing Outlets center for names like Coach, J. Crew and Ann Taylor.
But they might stay longer, spend more and tell their friends about it on social media thanks to firms whose names aren't usually associated with a shopping trip — CenturyLink, Salesforce.com, Conference Technologies Inc.
Those businesses are working with Nebraska Crossing, scheduled to open Nov. 15, to create what mall developers call a “mobile-first” shopping experience that caters to the way consumers now interact with their favorite brands.
“The lines have been blurred,” said developer Rod Yates of OTB Destination. “The physical, the digital, the mobile — it's all one.”
Imagine this scenario:
You've been thinking about buying a new handbag, doing some comparison shopping online. One morning, you check your phone and see an alert for a flash sale at the Coach outlet at Nebraska Crossing — not a coincidence. You plan a trip, with the mall's app telling you where to park to get closest to the store.
You stop at an interactive kiosk that recognizes your shopping profile from your phone. You swipe a screen and see other stores and deals. You're reminded you need new shoes.
You head to Coach, buy the handbag, get out your phone to Instagram a photo of the purchase and see a coupon pop up for a smoothie at Scooter's at the shopping center. Outside Scooter's, you enjoy the drink and take care of some work emails using the ultrafast Internet service CenturyLink has installed at the mall. Next to you, other shoppers charge their phones at a charging station while participating in a quiz on a large “digital wall” in the center of the mall.
All this could be possible at Nebraska Crossing Outlets, being built from scratch on the site of a demolished, similarly named outlet center that opened in Gretna in 1993 but had declined and was declared blighted in 2011, paving the way for tax-increment financing. The $112 million project can qualify for up to $57 million in city incentives.
Developers last week shared new details with The World-Herald about the interactive technology that has been a key part of the mall's redevelopment vision.
CenturyLink will provide its new ultrafast 1-gigabit broadband service to the mall, including tenants and shoppers. CenturyLink plans to have the system installed at the mall and ready to test by mid-October, anticipating the outlet mall's opening. The cable and phone provider announced in May it was bringing 1-gig service to Omaha as a pilot project.
The Gretna mall is one of a few large business customers that will have early access to the service outside of a zone in west Omaha where the 1-gig offering will be focused. And it means Gretna residents, too, will benefit, seeing speeds of 40 megabits per second over the next year, an upgrade from current CenturyLink service there. CenturyLink also said it will provide the service at OTB's other Omaha project, the redevelopment of Crossroads Mall at 72nd and Dodge Streets.
Salesforce.com, a San Francisco firm, is providing the platform Nebraska Crossing can use to build the apps and tools its marketing staff and retailers will use to reach customers. A former Salesforce employee is partnering with Yates on a new entity, OTB Technology, which will build the system and ultimately use it at other OTB properties.
Conference Technologies of Omaha will provide the screens and kiosks that will guide shoppers around the mall and alert them to deals and events.
The outlet mall's vision fits with two trends in shopping center development, said Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
First, developers and landlords are starting to renovate and redevelop aging centers as credit thaws.
Second, while malls have always been a gathering place, shopping centers are further evolving beyond being just a place to buy things, in a time when you can buy almost anything, anytime from your smartphone.
“It's imperative to make coming to the shopping center, the mall, an experience in and of itself,” Tron said. “It's not enough to simply put a bunch of stores together and say everybody's going to show up.”
Engaging shoppers with the technology they are already using is part of that.
“It's being really intuitive — for any marketer, that's the name of the game. You want to know what your customer wants,” he said.
With more than 100,000 shopping centers in the United States, Tron couldn't say whether Nebraska Crossing's proposed technology plans are unique.
The OTB Technology partner, Brian Smith, said some retailers are using individual aspects of what he has planned, but it's unusual to package it all together.
“What we're really doing is unifying all those solutions and creating a real comprehensive retail innovation technology platform,” he said.
The system he plans to build could connect all retailers' sales information and customer databases with the mall itself, and enable both to communicate directly with customers who opt in to sharing their information.
All of this won't be ready when the mall opens late this year.
Not all the center's retailers have committed to using the system, and not all its features will be ready right away. Instead, they'll develop over time. Mall owners plan incentives to get people to sign up, including the chance to win a Range Rover at the mall's grand opening.
To compete financially in today's retail world, Yates said, it's not enough to have an attractive, interesting physical space filled with desirable retail tenants. The third component — technology — has to be part of the package.
He points to a Deloitte Digital study advising retailers that the biggest use for smartphones isn't direct sales bought online using the phone, but the way they make customers 21 percent more likely to buy something in a store, “most likely because such apps can provide a more relevant and tailored shopping experience that helps people make an immediate buying decision.”
“The real goal in the end,” Smith said, “is to maximize retail performance.”