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How A Holiday Closing And On-Demand Partnership Boosted Mall of America’s Visits

MoA's Jill Renslow explains how closing on Thanksgiving and a location-based alliance with Uber helped drive record-setting visits the retail theme park's 500 stores.

The Mall of America’s decision to close on Thanksgiving was not an easy one to make during crucial holiday shopping season. But record store traffic on Black Friday and the weekend after from the Minnesota retail attraction showed that by combining the right mix of online and offline marketing, the gains appear to be long-lasting.

Among the features of MoA’s successful shopping season was its partnership with Uber to get local Twin Cities shoppers to five specific entrance drop-off points, receive curbside pickup of online purchases, and the chance to win gift cards.

The Mall of America in an Uber map
The Mall of America in an Uber map

Reducing The Parking Problem

To put it in perspective, the Bloomington-based MoA is about a 15-minute drive from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. In addition to 520 brand name retailers, the 2.5 million square-foot MoA also hosts 50 restaurants and a theme park with rides like the Nickelodeon Universe rollercoaster.

Once you’ve wrapped your mind around that, imagine navigating the 12,000-plus parking spaces and the “record-breaking” 250,000 people — a 25 percent rise over 2015’s numbers — who came to shop when the stores opened again on Black Friday this year.

“People shy away because of the parking because there are so many people here, but when you can use either our valet system or our Uber partnership, it’s a big thing for our shoppers not to have to worry about,” said Jill Renslow, SVP of Business Development/Marketing at Mall of America.

“You can eliminate that stress factor and really allow just to have an enjoyable experience and not have to worry about the parking,”Renslow continued. “It’s really convenient because we have multiple locations around our property so even if you start on the north side any end up on the south side you don’t have to retrace your footsteps all the way around the property again so we’ve really listen to consumers and we are delivering those services and tools to make their journey here more enjoyable.”

The MoA streamlined the Uber pick-up and drop-off points around the 2.5 million square-foot mall.
The MoA streamlined the Uber pick-up and drop-off points around the 2.5 million square-foot mall.

Uber And MoA Door-To-Door Service

As part of the Uber alliance, which had MoA-branded cars roaming the downtown areas, MoA streamlined drop off and pick up locations to make it easier for drivers and riders to find each other. It also made it easier for shoppers who wanted closer access to particular shops to get where they wanted to go easier and faster.

“Having a large property was challenging for the drivers to be able to connect with the riders,” Renslow said. “There are so many different entrance points. And we have multiple levels at the ramps and at the entrances, so we’ve designated five locations all on level — one at the east west north entrance was as well as our two hotel partners.”

Mall of America and Uber allianceWhen a MoA shopper opens up the Uber app, it will automatically populate those five locations so a rider can select one of those five as far as your pick up point and that way the driver can find you much easier.

“The partnership with Uber helps us simplify the logistics of managing enormous traffic and people flows,” she said. “We also are doing tons of promotions. The weekend before Black Friday, we did a promotion offering 500 free rides to and from the mall. We’ll likely be doing additional promotions as we get closer to Christmas. We know that the traffic will be very busy so again. In addition to managing logistics better for everyone, it’s a good way to celebrate our shoppers as well.”

Black Friday Lessons

In determining whether closing on Thanksgiving Day would be a positive or not for the mall and its retail partners, MoA executives began examining the idea early in the year, Renslow said.

The consensus was that by keeping the doors open on the holiday, it was actually “diluting” Black Friday sales. Considering the importance of retail stats on that day across the country, anything that creates a false impression on holiday performance ultimately produces negative buzz. In addition, rolling out retail discounts earlier created only more downward pressure on sales and marketing strategies throughout the season.

 

“We don’t have control over what the retailers, who operate independently of us, are offering, but we constantly try to see what can we do that would have a strong, positive impact on their store traffic,” Renslow said.

 

Enhancing The Brick-And-Mortar Experience

The decision to announce Thanksgiving’s day off was made in early October.

“We were mindful of that timing because we knew that that’s when the retailers were making their final decisions on what they were going to do around Thanksgiving and Black Friday,” Renslow said.

In the end, all but three of the 520 MoA stores closed on Thanksgiving. That trio — Macy’s, Sears, and Crayola — all have exterior access or entrances so we could close the main mall property down and just those three stores had their own access points.

The MoA relied heavily on its social media presence — which includes a profile on Snapchat — to make sure the word got out.

“We have a major focus on a consumer perspective and what’s going to make it more convenient and more relevant for the consumer, so our digital team and our social media hub is core to those efforts,” Renslow said. “Whether it’s finding out information on new stores, to get gift ideas to make restaurant reservations, we try to reach people the way they want to be reached.”

The MoA set up a “social media lounge” for the Black Friday weekend where, its marketing team can connect and interact with shoppers.

“We have a lot of people that connect with through SMS, and that’s actually the number one communication channel as far as that people can easily connect with us and through our system we have additional concierge so connecting with us whether it’s before you start your journey here or while you’re on property or after you feed, we are tethered to those digital tools, but we never want to replace that human experience that you have in a brick-and-mortar environment.

“We wanted to enhance that experience so provide way finding, provide assistance with getting in contact with retailers or recommendations for gift ideas,” Renslow continued. “You can’t take away that uniqueness that brick-and-mortar can’t deliver especially during the holiday season. You want to touch and feel and be excited about those gifts that you buy your loved ones and when you can have that instant gratification of brick-and-mortar but yet have the convenience of those digital tools that help drive the behavior that we have for shopping online that it’s easy, you can merge those together it’s like the best of both worlds and that’s where we find great success.”