Next time you visit one of the three Simon malls on Long Island, consider sending the mall an instant message via Facebook Messenger when you get there.
Yes, you can “talk” to the mall.
Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, owner of Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove and Roosevelt Field in Garden City, this month launched a chatbot “concierge” service on Facebook to assist shoppers at its 208 malls.
The “bot,” a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, aims to act much like a human concierge at a hotel, providing directions and advice as well as deals and discounts.
Need to know where you can find an ATM at Roosevelt Field? The bot can tell you. Want a list of restaurants at Walt Whitman Shops? It’s got you covered. In addition to dispensing instant, automated information about each mall, the bot allows shoppers to “direct message” more specific questions to mall representatives.
Simon developed the bot to enhance customer service, said Patrick Flanagan, vice president of digital marketing and strategy. It “provides an always on, instantly available digital concierge experience,” he said, so shoppers “can get their top questions answered from their own personal mobile device.”
Shoppers can also send Facebook messages to the Simon mall of their choice through a laptop or desktop computer.
With mall store sales and foot traffic declining as consumers do more of their shopping online, malls are looking for new ways to entice shoppers inside.
“Everything a mall, store or brand can do to bring convenience, comfort and value to a consumer is essential,” said Marshal Cohen, senior retail analyst with the NPD Group, a Port Washington market research company.
“And that’s what this [technology] is doing, it’s elevating and trying to provide shoppers with the level of convenience and value online represents.”
A Newsday reporter who chose to Facebook message Walt Whitman Shops and typed the question, “Where can I find a bathing suit?” received the automated reply, “A member of the team will respond . . . as soon as possible.”
The answer came about two hours later: “Hi . . . Everything but Water is a retailer that is specific to your swim fashion needs! We also have four department anchor stores that have swimwear departments.”
In an email, Flanagan called the response “a great job” by our “in-center guest services team.”
Other Long Island malls also offer shoppers a chance to type questions through Facebook Messenger. While a question to Westfield South Shore mall in Bay Shore went unanswered for hours, a question posed to Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream was answered within seconds with a personal reply by a staff member named Giselle.
Sara McGuinness, Green Acres’ senior marketing manager, said the mall launched its Facebook Messenger response program, in which guest services employees answer shoppers’ inquiries both through social media and text messaging, two years ago.
“People love the program,” she said. “We’ve gotten great feedback and think a live response from a real person is much more personable.”
On Simon’s Facebook Messenger bot, a shopper who selects one of the pre-set menu tabs, such as “Amenities and Services,” will instantly receive a message asking, “Which amenities are you looking for?” and can choose from a list including restrooms, baby changing station, parking and ATMs. The requested information pops right up on the shopper’s phone. For example, a person who selects the “restrooms” tab at Smith Haven Mall gets a message that reads: “Restrooms are located near the Food Court as well as in the Macy’s Wing.”
The bot also offers discount codes for individual stores. Offerings last week included a promo code for an extra 30 percent discount on all sandals already on sale at Aldo shoes, and an extra 30 percent off sale items at Forever 21. Aldo said the code would be honored in store or online, but a manager at Forever 21 entered the promo code at the register and obtained an “invalid code” notice.
Christian Brucculeri, CEO of Snaps, the Manhattan-based company that developed Simon’s chatbot, said Snaps plans to add more capabilities and intelligence to the bot over the coming months.
Shoppers interviewed at Walt Whitman Shops last week were unaware of the bot, but said they might use it.
Lexi Knee, 18, of Roslyn, who was at the mall with Jack Simon, 18, of Syosset, for a lunch date said she would consider using the bot’s “Steals & Deals” tab.
“I shop online almost every day but if I can use these promo codes in the store it would motivate me to come to the mall a little bit more,” she said. “I want to get the deals.”
Both teens said they don’t go to the mall often and prefer to shop online. But Simon said, “I already have Facebook messenger on my phone and I like the quick, at-the-snap-of-the-finger responses.”
After being introduced to the bot, Diane Barbera, 62, of Bay Shore, who said she shops at the mall “almost weekly,” said “every mall should have a chatbot” because it’s “very useful.”
For Ronald Rosero, 35, of Bay Shore, who went to the mall to get his computer fixed at the Apple store, the chatbot’s main hook is time efficiency: “I spent more than a few minutes looking at the directory to see where the Apple store was located inside in the mall, but this Facebook chatbot seems easier and faster to use than a directory, so yes, I think it’s pretty cool.”