- Simon Property Group, the real estate investment trust that's the world's biggest owner of shopping malls, unveiled a chatbot on Facebook Messenger to help people find the right store to buy gifts during the holiday season, according to a press release. The "Santa Messenger Bot" offers store suggestions based on categories of interest or the recipient of the gift.
- The company is also launching a "Santa's Helpers" augmented reality (AR) game at select properties in the new Simon Family mobile application. The app guides shoppers into three virtual locations at the North Pole, where they can help Santa prepare for Christmas Eve. After completing three challenges in the virtual game, shoppers can enter a sweepstakes to win a special keepsake.
- Simon also partnered with the nonprofit Autism Speaks to provide a sensory-friendly experience with "Caring Santa," as well as a pet photo opportunity. On Dec. 9, 120 of the company's properties teamed up with Cookies For Kids Cancer, Mrs. Fields, Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip and the Great American Cookies to distribute 133,000 free cookies.
Though marketers are still just beginning to add chatbots and AR to the mix, they're gaining as ways to bridge real-world and digital experiences, something the smash success of Pokémon Go in 2016 showed consumers want. Simon's latest Santa chatbot and AR game demonstrate how the mobile technologies can be used to entertain shoppers and urge them to visit brick-and-mortar malls during the holiday season.
In August, Simon introduced a separate chatbot on Facebook Messenger to provide users with information as they shop at malls. The "concierge bot" answers questions about store hours, restaurants, special events, daily promotions and mall amenities. The new holiday-focused chatbot, however, is specific to gift-giving and the annual holiday shopping season. This builds upon several other seasonal opportunities Simon is offering this year. Families can also share a snack or a story with Santa through Simon's programs to have breakfast, story time or cookies with Santa — similar to Disney’s program to let families dine with characters from popular cartoons and movies — in an effort to engage shoppers with live experiences and keep them in malls.
Despite the growth in e-commerce, many families still want to create Christmas memories for their kids during the holidays, which often includes the ritual of getting a picture taken with Santa. Simon is bringing that experience into the mobile age with chatbots and an AR game that appeal to today's tech-savvy kids.
Meanwhile, shopping malls are looking to find ways to lure back consumers who have turned to mobile apps and websites to buy gifts during the holiday shopping season. Mall traffic fell less than 1% this year on Black Friday from year earlier, ShopperTrak reported. Because there are four Saturdays in December prior to Christmas, Dec. 23 and Dec. 16 are more crucial to retailers for promotions than other years. In addition, Dec. 30, which did not rank as one of the 10 busiest days in 2016, is expected to be the ninth busiest day of the year because it falls on a Saturday, per ShopperTrak.