How Mall of America Is Changing with the Times 

An AI-enabled chatbot is one weapon

Author: Andria Cheng

December 12, 2017

Mall of America has introduced a chatbot that uses AI and natural language to answer customer questions in real time.  

Through the technology, visitors accessing its website, mobile app or Facebook Messenger  can get answers immediately, whether they're looking to shop or find the nearest restroom.  

Next year the chatbot, developed by tech startup Satisfi Labs, will also be incorporated with Mall of America's three new Pepper humanoid robots, which it recently brought to its 5.6 million-square-foot property for the first time since Black Friday weekend. What's more, Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant feature is also being included so that mall patrons can ask questions without typing.

In addition to the new chatbot, Mall of America—which draws 40 million visitors annually  and is known for entertainment features from an aquarium to an amusement park—Tuesday unveiled an updated website. It features not just the new chatbot, but also rich media and virtual reality that its various brand tenants may use to make their traditionally “solid” tenant pages more “robust,” said Sarah Townes, vice president of marketing at Mall of America.

“It’s a 360-degree integrated approach,” Townes said in an interview. “Our traffic has been very strong throughout the year and we just had another record-breaking Black Friday. We are really trying to keep a pulse of what guests want today, with the end goal of improving guest experiences. We have the ability to be nimble and test and learn in real time. That’s at the forefront of our strategy.”

Townes declined to specify the mall’s comparable sales trend or whether its traffic has actually been going up. But the recent changes are reflective of how malls are responding to the demands of today’s mobile-phone-toting consumers, who want answers right away and see good services and experiences as prerequisites before they even consider shopping a brand. And of course, changes at malls are also aimed at combating the increased shift to online shopping.

Besides these digital updates and using Pepper as a traffic draw, Mall of America is working with Uber to offer free rides every Saturday this month, and has worked with the MyPark app to allow shoppers to reserve a parking space up to months in advance, Townes said.

There's also the mall’s valet service, which picks up consumers' bags and drops them at their cars, allowing them to continue shopping.

The makeup of Mall of America's tenants also has reflected changing retail trends. For instance, Canadian online made-to-measure suit retailer Indochino will soon open a store at the mall, reflecting the online-to-brick-and-mortar trend. To respond to changing consumer appetites, early next year the mall will feature Earth Burger as its first vegan fast-food joint. And in another sign that malls are being more flexible with their lease terms to attract brands that may otherwise never have been able to afford to become tenants, the mall giant has launched a marketplace section featuring various local merchants to attract “shop local mindset” customers.

Make no doubt: Mall of America also is capitalizing on the data trend of reading what consumers want. “We do a variety of research here,” Townes said. “We talk to people both in- and off-mall. For customers who don’t shop with us, we want to learn why.”