Much of mall redevelopment is talked up in terms of new construction, but not so much in the way of digital overhauls.
MainPlace Mall is mixing up that conversation.
The Santa Ana shopping center, OC’s 12th largest by sales and owned by Dallas-based Centennial Real Estate Co., is on the cusp of a $300 million property transformation that could see the addition of as many as 1,900 residential units, 400 hotel rooms and the repurposing of the former Nordstrom site into a food and retail marketplace, among other concepts.
However, the property is also bridging the online and physical shopping worlds in a new way for shoppers and tenants.
The mall in October unveiled the first phase of its Shop Now website that took the concept of window shopping at the mall online, integrating most of the center’s tenants onto a unified, searchable platform.
The latest updates to the site include a single-cart checkout process Centennial Senior Vice President of Marketing Colleen Heydon compares to an Amazon-like experience, marrying the inventories of multiple brands at the center for in-store pickup, curbside service or home delivery.
MainPlace was the first in Centennial’s retail portfolio to test the feature, and last week it was rolled out to the 191,000-square-foot Pacific City shopping center along PCH in Huntington Beach, which the company has been managing since January.
The rest of the Centennial properties could see a rollout of this second phase of the shopping platform in late summer.
“We all recognized that slowly the online shopping or brick-and-mortar shopping were truly becoming an omnichannel kind of experience for the consumer, and I think the best way to describe what we’ve done is we’ve turned the local mall into a mini Amazon,” Heydon said.
MainPlace, with $149.9 million in taxable sales for the 12 months through June 30, is one of OC’s largest malls at 1.1 million square feet.
It was acquired in 2015 by Centennial from Westfield Corp. in a $1.1 billion portfolio deal that included five centers in California, Washington, Connecticut and Illinois.
Shop Now is a new take on what it means to be a mall landlord these days.
The online site essentially keeps the mall open after business hours, for consumers to peruse online the inventories of stores in real time to verify size or color.
“We’re finding that the consumer is using the tool predominantly in its first phase as a planning tool to search inventory of the mall,” Heydon said of Shop Now’s initial learnings. “It’s a way for you to really narrow down your search for a pair of red shoes that actually interests you and has your size, versus coming to the mall and there’s 20 or 30 stores and you’re bopping from store to store. That was a very pleasant realization in how consumers use the [search] tool.”
The more recent improvements to the site offer the ability to place orders from multiple stores in a single transaction. That’s a big step from the site’s initial rollout, which only allowed for consumers to make their purchases directly from individual retailers’ sites.
Orders placed by 3 p.m. are promised same-day delivery or the ability for same-day pickup, with curbside service available between noon and 6 p.m.
Once an order is placed, staff go to the individual retailers to handle fulfillment and packaging.
Over 80% of the mall’s tenants offer the ability to search their inventory, with more than 20 offering same-day delivery. The latter service requires the technological capability for the individual retailer to connect with the MainPlace tech infrastructure.
The Shop Now homepage highlights the different product categories—women, men, baby, kids, beauty and home. The site also shows merchandise that’s trending, and top stores for the pickup or delivery services.
“We as a company and we as an industry had been talking about the convergence of e-commerce for quite some time, but the pandemic and the change in consumer behavior really accelerated that conversation and pushed us to take action in developing a platform that would respond to those changes sooner rather than later,” Heydon said.
Centennial began talking to its technology provider, artificial intelligence e-commerce company Adeptmind, in June of last year.
Centennial is one of a few U.S. mall owners using Adeptmind’s technology to add an e-commerce element. Other mall owners that have adopted the tech include Bayer Properties of Alabama, British REIT Hammerson PLC and Cadillac Fairview in Toronto.
The MainPlace site launched at the end of October, to have it ready for the 2020 holiday selling season. The mall used social media, digital display advertising, video tutorials on how the site worked, signage inside the center and direct communication with customers to drum up awareness of Shop Now.
“The response to that was really impressive and we moved forward with further developing the platform so that it’s not just a tool to view the inventory and the products at the mall,” Heydon said.
Iterating on Experiences
The site so far has been a boon to customers within the main MainPlace trade area, given same-day delivery is available to those within a 10-mile radius of the center.
In some ways the site is also a way for malls—traditional marketplaces of mostly national chains—to tout a more “shop local” angle.
“I think as we’ve reemerged and during the course of the pandemic, there’s been an even greater focus on shopping local and, while some of the brands in a shopping mall are national brands, they are local owners and the employees in those shops live in the local community, and there’s still a sense of wanting to support those stores,” Heydon said. “We’ve definitely got some great feedback from retailers and customers to have the option to support these local stores.”
Specifics about the age of the consumers using the site or their transaction sizes are not currently able to be gleaned. However, that could change if there’s integration with MainPlace’s My Perks loyalty program.
“If they are a member of the My Perks program, we do see some benefits of merging and leveraging the platform of Shop Now to give our most loyal customers added benefits. And, when we do that, I think we’ll have some greater insights,” Heydon said.
My Perks, which debuted in 2019, was followed up with further enhancements to the program and the associated app where consumers receive exclusive deals and mall experiences.
MainPlace, for example, has an on-site My Perks lounge for members, similar to the VIP area for shoppers at Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza.
The Santa Ana mall had originally hoped to have a grand opening for the lounge last year, but had to hold off due to the pandemic. The amenities and events are now slowly starting to be rolled out. A similar lounge at Pacific City for My Perks members is expected this fall.
Centennial will continue to observe how shoppers are interacting with the platform and listening for any pain points in the browsing or checkout process and will continue to do so, Heydon said.
“We’re hearing and seeing a lot of buzz in the industry on the topic [of shoppable mall platforms]. We’ve seen the way consumers shop evolve in an accelerated pace during COVID and I think some of these habits are here to stay and those habits will continue to evolve,” Heydon said. “So, all shopping centers, if they want to remain relevant, they’ll apply things like Shop Now and I do think that it will be adopted on a broader industry level as we go forward.”