With today’s opening of Westfield World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, the shopping mall is showing signs of new life.
The $1.4 billion, 365,000-square-foot retail center has been under development since 2007, six years after the original Mall at the World Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001. The new mall is home to a long list of retailers, including Apple, Bose, Dior, Kit and Ace, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzman, Cole Haan, Under Armour, John Varvatos and Sephora.
The storefronts weren’t chosen lightly. To be part of Westfield’s new era of shopping malls, which includes current and future projects totaling $10.5 billion, retailers have to have a strategy for forward-facing stores with mobile and interactive features.
Westfield U.S. co-CEO Steven Lowy highlighted the Center’s emphasis on digital technology at Shoptalk this year, saying that a shift to embrace it in malls marks the company’s strategy going forward. Westfield owns 32 shopping centers in the country, the kind that are currently on the decline: suburban mammoths filled with lackluster retailers anchored by major department stores. Hecht believes the mall’s saving grace will be a change in mindset.
“We used to think technology was a threat, but it’s actually an advantage,” said Lowy. “Malls have shifted to become more exciting places to be by focusing on technology. The investments are in major cities.”
The outlet is the biggest shopping mall in Manhattan and is projected to be the most trafficked retail center in the country, with 60,000 downtown Manhattan residents, 300,000 commuters and millions of tourists contributing to the foot traffic, according to Westfield’s estimates. The many who visit will find a modern shopping experience, as retailers on site have made their World Trade Center locations displays of tech-forward brick-and-mortar with digital capabilities.
The Westfield World Trade Center exterior.
Specifically, the in-store technology being rolled out by retailers shows a focus on mobile-enabled efficiency, improved service and entertainment. At Cole Haan, store associates will be equipped with mobile checkout devices to speed up the process for commuters and tourists. A ship-to-home or hotel service will be offered to those who don’t want to tote their bag for the rest of the day. John Varvatos will have a digital art exhibition, starting with artist Karsten Staiger and switching out after September. Under Armour’s Connected Fitness app will see its first in-store integration, with digital stories from users on the app being displayed on screens.
Aldo’s World Trade Center store will be the footwear retailer’s first mobile-integrated store as part of its digital growth strategy, with push notifications prompting shoppers to download the Aldo app. If they do so, users can see inventory, request sizes and read item reviews through the app, as well as view “virtual aisles” that display online items and sizes.
“We’re starting to explore with the mobile, in-store experience,” said Serge Rose, Aldo Group’s director of customer applications. “Our most important asset is our stores and associates, and the goal is to bridge the digital and physical worlds using mobile. It’s to better engage with customers.”
While mall regulars like Aldo, Banana Republic, Forever 21 and Victoria’s Secret will be updating their typical store experience for the new playing field, younger brands like Kit and Ace are newcomers to the format. The brand’s growth strategy relied on strategically placed pop-up shops and permanent locations with high-touch customer service, which it will have to scale for a high-traffic store.
Westfield is also running tech initiatives on the broader, shopping center-wide scale. The Westfield World Trade Center is the first of a string of major developments for the Westfield Corporation that will focus on making the retail outlets tech-enabled destinations for digital shoppers. The goal is that the retailers in one mall will work together to improve the total shopping experience.
“We’re testing all of it right now,” said Lowy. “How to connect people to retailers while sharing data and collaborating as one entity. Instead of competition, we encourage collaboration. If we provide a better overall experience, people will do more business.”