In the wake of its partnership with the developers of the Shopkick mobile application, Simon Property Group has unveiled an iPhone app that will be active at more than 180 of its malls.
Unlike Shopkick, which concentrates primarily on offering shoppersfrom participating retailers, Simon’s new iPhone app promotes Simon’s properties and provides a wide range of services specific to its malls. Shoppers who download the app will be able to access retailer discounts at their favorite centers, get information on mall events, be able to draw up mall maps and lists of available retailers, restaurants and entertainment venues and get help with parking.
The application comes following Simon’s appointment of Patrick Flanagan as head of digitalsome six months ago. Flanagan, who’s now charged with taking Simon’s properties into the smartphone age, helped develop the app in house. It can be downloaded for free from the Apple iTunes App store and is compatible with iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. Simon plans to roll out an Android version of the app by the first quarter of next year.
Mikael Thygesen, Simon Property Group’s chief marketing officer, spoke with Retail Traffic about the application.
Retail Traffic: How was the application developed?
Thygesen: We designed it internally and did customer research to test some of the concepts and validate the functionality of the tools. The focus of the app, really, is to provide Simon shoppers with information on what’s going on in their favorite mall. It might be offers and promotions from retailers, it might be events, it might be new stores.
We actually hired a new head of digital marketing about six months ago and this was one of his first projects. It’s part of a larger initiative to leverage technology to enhance the shopping experience and this is an example of that.
RT: Is the application already functional?
Thygesen: It’s functional; I am using it [right now] as I travel from property to property. One of the things we are doing is leveraging an existing capability we have. We already aggregate offers from our retailers and relate them online to our customers, so we just added a new communication channel. We used that existing functionality as the foundation for the retail promotions engine.
RT: Can you walk us through how the application works?
Thygesen: You can download the Simon Mall App from the iTunes store, it’s free. You download it, open it and it will identify malls nearby—you can designate what your favorite mall or malls are. There are nine icons when you pull the app up: you can access all the deals from the retailers at that mall; there is an event icon, where we would list all the events, and that might include new store openings, performances, other kinds of events; you have a store icon that lets you quickly sort through all the retailers at the property; you have general mall information; you have different icons for information on the dining options and entertainment; a mall map if you are an out-of-towner and want to know how to get from point A to point B.
We also integrated social media into our functionality. With Foursquare, you can identify yourself as being in the mall, so people can reach out and get together. We have Facebook, so you can share an event [you like]. And then finally, the other piece of functionality is the parking service. If you want to make sure you can get back to your car (because sometimes you forget where you parked), there is a GPS capability. It guides you back to your car using GPS and Google maps.
RT: Do you know how many people have downloaded the app so far?
Thygesen: I don’t know. We just announced the launch [this week], so it’s a little early. I am going to give it some time. One of the things we will be doing is obviously promoting it to our shoppers and that is rolling out as we speak. We haven’t actively marketed it yet.
RT: When will the Android version of the app become available?
Thygesen: We will be rolling out an Android version probably in the first quarter of next year. We will give it a little time to see how everybody reacts to the iPhone app and we want to get feedback from our shoppers. The strategy is for us to regularly update and improve the app.
We see this as an important communication channel for us with our shoppers going forward. And I think it will be increasingly so as smart phone adoption use increases. The forecasts that I’ve seen say that over the next two years it will really explode. Android is doing extremely well in the marketplace already. That’s one of the reasons we see this as an important area for us to be involved in.
RT: You recently rolled out the Shopkick app at some of your centers. Will there be any overlap between the two applications?
Thygesen: We view them as being complementary. Shopkick is more of a cross-retailer marketing platform. It’s not exclusive to Simon malls. What we are doing with our app is targeting our core customer on a regular basis. It’s not as broad, it’s very focused on Simon and its malls, in particular a mall, and we dive deeper in terms of information we offer shoppers. It caters to a different need—giving a lot of information for core shoppers who visit our malls on a regular basis.