- Simon Property Group, the real estate investment trust that's the world's biggest owner of shopping malls, debuted a chatbot today on Facebook Messenger to provide users with information as they shop at any of the 208 Simon malls, according to a press release made available to Mobile Marketer. The "concierge bot" can answer questions about store hours, restaurants, special events, daily promotions and mall amenities.
- The chatbot will also provide personalized recommendations and access to lifestyle content tailored to the user from Simon SAID, the company's fashion, beauty and dining publication.
- Snaps Media, a New York-based tech firm, developed the chatbot with Simon and has created similar chatbots and emoji keyboards for more than 120 major brands like Nike, Marriott, L'Oréal and Nordstrom.
Simon is looking for ways to make its shopping malls more appealing, especially in the face of Amazon's growing threat to brick-and-mortar retailers. Bankruptcies in the space have risen 30% this year to more than 300 from a year earlier, including chains like Gymboree, RadioShack, Payless ShoeSource, Gordmans, Wet Seal and The Limited. Department stores like Sears, Macy's and J.C. Penney have closed locations, while Crocs, BCBG, Abercrombie & Fitch and Guess also have scaled back.
Chatbots, the computer programs that simulate human conversation, are used by one in four consumers each day, while about 40% of millennials say they interact with one daily, according to a July study by 3Cinteractive. However, consumers had trouble identifying the value of chatbots, with 71% of survey respondents saying a bot couldn't answer their question or help them. Although chatbots are multiplying, they're still not exactly pervasive, as limitations of the technology are hindering widespread adoption. Still, Simon's concierge bot suggests that big brands continue to see the technology as a key way to quickly and easily provide information to smartphone-savvy younger consumers.
In addition to enhancing its technical capabilities, Simon is putting money into its brick-and-mortar shopping centers. The Indianapolis-based company in May announced plans to invest $1 billion to redevelop its properties for the modern retail age, The Wall Street Journal reported. The company spent $5 billion over the past five years on interior enhancements, upgrades to tile, lights and furniture and redeveloping former department store locations for other tenants.