Chapel Hills Mall to market through shoppers’ phones

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Imagine you’re planning some last-minute holiday shopping at the mall for video games, chocolates and a golf club.

As soon as you pass through the mall’s doors, your phone alerts you: Six stores in the mall carry video games and golf clubs are on sale.

How cool is that?

But, wait. Your phone also provides a map to each of the stores, including the chocolatier.

All of this makes last-minute shopping headaches and hassles a thing of the past – or that’s what Chapel Hills Mall merchants hope, at least.

The mall has inked a deal with a local technology company to create a “proximity-based” marketing program to do all these things. General Manager Dave Moss said the program should be in place by Sept. 11.

The technology isn’t new. Larger malls across the country have been experimenting with the idea for years, and Old Colorado City merchants started testing a scaled-down version of the software this summer.

Moss believes the application will give Chapel Hills a local shopping advantage.

“This is cutting-edge technology,” he said. “Shoppers can’t find this at most other places. We want to create a better shopping experience at Chapel Hills Mall and provide our customers with information so they can make good decisions.”

MindMeld Software is the Colorado Springs company building the mall’s software, called Empulse. Vice President Joe Hopkins hopes the program is so successful that Chapel Hills parent company, General Growth Properties, will use it in other malls it owns.

Even if that happens, MindMeld will still have an uphill battle competing with similar software developed by Silicon Valley-based Shopkick Inc. That company’s mobile phone application is already in use by Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group, the nation’s largest mall owner.

The Empulse software allows smart-phone users to download the free application, then the phone uploads information from beacons placed at mall entrances.

“We actually communicate with the cell-phone device,” Hopkins said.

Shoppers can tailor their preferences to see what types of coupons or specials are available.

The technology is currently limited to BlackBerry or Droid users, but regular cell-phone owners will be able to download an express version of the software if they have internet access on their device.

Mazie Baalman, who owns Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Old Colorado City, said the software’s learning curve proved to be a challenge for some shoppers, but was worth it.

“The tough thing for us is, it’s kind of hard to explain what it is to our customers,” she said. “We had a sign in the window about Empulse, and I must admit that I didn’t quite know what some of the words meant. But the system has enormous potential.”

Don Wick, owner of Old Town Guest House, a bed-and-breakfast in Old Colorado City, said the best value of the software has come from his ability to see what types of promotions work best, as well as the ability to track how many people have entered the area and how long they stayed.

“The thing that sold me on the process was the return on investment to the merchants,” he said. “As a store owner, I can see what promotions work and what doesn’t, and what kind of head counts we see for any given time frame.”

Moss plans to use the software for a year to see how well it works.

“I think it’s too early to tell if there will be wide-spread adoption of this technology, but it combines the beauty of Internet shopping with the experience of brick-and-mortar stores,” he said. “You can search but also touch and feel.”