Back in March and April, when the COVID-19 pandemic began putting malls out of business, Centennial executives hunkered down in a series of defensive planning meetings to weather the crisis.
“Then a day came when we recognized that this pandemic was further accelerating a change in consumer behaviors and preferences and that we needed a strategy that was more offensive and innovative,” said Centennial COO Whitney Livingston. “We needed to meet the customers where they wanted to be met.”
That turnabout in planning strategy resulted in this month’s introduction of Centennial’s Shop Now! program, a cross-portfolio, omnichannel program that allows people to shop its seven regional and super-regional malls the same way they shop Amazon.
Centennial hired Adeptmind, an AI-powered e-commerce company that captured the entire inventories of all tenants and installed them within the mall websites. Shoppers can log in, search for “red shoes,” and the site will display all red shoes available from various shops in the mall. They can then refine their searches, search for other products they want, and place them in digital shopping carts. They then have the option of home delivery, curbside delivery at the mall, or picking up their purchases at the mall in person.
“We thought, ‘What if we embrace e-commerce as a complement to the brick-and-mortar experience and combine them both into a mono-channel experience?” Livingston said. “One major trend we’re seeing in the industry right now is that people spend less time in the mall but are spending more money. And no one shops alone. There’s always a smartphone in their hands.”
Phase 1 of Shop Now! Launches in October at all Centennial malls, which include the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana, Calif., the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora, Ill., and the Connecticut Post Mall in Milford, Conn.
When Shop Now! Enters Phase 2 in 2021, digital orders from different stores will be consolidated and guests will be able to make several cross-mall purchases and pay in one transaction.
Centennial CEO Steven Levin feels that COVID-19 has forced changes to be made in retail that have been needed for some time. “Retail isn’t about brick-and-mortar versus online shopping, it’s about the seamless convergence of these two channels in a way that makes sense for the consumer,” he said.