It's no secret that traffic at American shopping malls has declined in recent years. Retail sales are down as a result of the Great Recession. In addition, convenience, the ease of comparison shopping and free shipping straight to your door, have increasingly led sales activity to migrate online.

As a result, online sales accounted for 6 percent of all retail sales in 2009, according to Forrester Research. By 2014 online sales will grow to nearly $250 billion — about 8 percent of total retail sales.

For many retailers, the social networking and mobile revolution could continue to shift the balance and ultimately may lead them to reconsider their bricks-and-mortar presence. However, a new breed of social shopping apps promises to revolutionize the traditional shopping experience, help retailers draw customers back to the store and turn casual shoppers into loyal brand champions with near seamless integration of the in-store and online experience.

Social shopping revolution

A decade ago, cruising the mall was one of the primary social activities for millions of teens — one of the largest target demographic groups for brand marketers. Today, the likes of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter serve as the dominant social scene for a new generation of always-wired, mobile consumers.

To capitalize on this trend, many applications have emerged to enhance the in-mall shopping experience. For example, ShopSavvy enables users to scan barcodes and complete price comparisons on items they see in stores. Yowza allows users to receive mobile coupons. And FourSquare enables users to “check in” to locations — information retailers can use to provide rewards to frequent visitors.

These tools have emerged to help retailers integrate their physical and virtual presences and deliver dynamic shopping experiences.

But what shoppers really want — and retailers need — is convergence: a way to meld the physical and virtual shopping experiences without obstacles. Doing so can create a mutually beneficial relationship that puts the power of online product research, peer reviews and price comparisons, easy store navigation and exclusive money-saving deals right at customers' fingertips while creating down-stream revenue and never-before-seen marketing opportunities for retailers.

It's in this vein that we have developed FastMall. Originally built specifically to make mall shopping easier by providing turn-by-turn directions through thousands of malls in the U.S., Canada and other regions, we have added new functionality to the free i-Phone App to make it a fully-integrated social shopping, mobile marketing and proximity marketing tool.

Dynamic maps featuring turn-by-turn directions make navigating malls and shopping centers easy and convenient. In addition, location-based features enable customers to “check-in” at locations, similar to FourSquare, and receive coupons or deals specific to that store or shopping center.

Customized delivery options allow mall operators and retailers to push messages to opt-in customers when they enter a mall, approach or enter a store — or even simply pass by when strolling through mall concourses. In addition, mobile coupons delivered through the app can be scanned right at the point of sale.

Other social media features include an online FastMall community, plus direct links to Facebook and Twitter.

This incredibly affordable new social marketing medium can help curb the decline of bricks-and-mortar shopping and restore personal service and attention to the sales transaction — an area where bricks-and-mortar stores have always had an advantage over online retailers. In the process, the social shopping revolution may even restore real human interaction to the social scene.