Mall of America Clings to Life By Going Digital With “Live Stream Shopping” App

(Noted News) America’s largest shopping mall is fighting for survival, already missing millions in mortgage payments and laying off hundreds of employees. To stay alive, Mall Of America is going digital with an app that allows shoppers to virtually visit stores and make purchases.

The COVID-19 crisis caused a complete shutdown of most of MOA and its 500 stores, and now that they are open, foot traffic is way down due to social distancing rules and would-be shoppers feeling unsafe in malls.

So, MOA has partnered with Popshop Live to bring its stores to its customers through their phones.

Popshop Live is an invite-only iOS app where vendors can create shopping channels, do their own shows or infomercials, and then ship out their products after the show is finished. MOA will be creating a channel on PopShop Live and giving each store a “showtime,” allowing users to tune in and virtually shop each store.

Mall Of America Senior VP Jill Renslow, whose current world is in stark contrast to her successful Black Friday of 2019, expressed that the new customer experience won’t replace shopping in person, but actually adds to it.

“We really feel like this complements brick and mortar really well, because not only can you continue to come and shop with us in person at MOA, but this is another way to engage with us in a really fun and dynamic way,” said Renslow.

According to Renslow, all purchases from the app can be delivered to the customer’s home or be available for curbside pickup at MOA.

Addressing the notion that this concept is just Amazon with infomercials, Renslow said there were things on Popshop Live that just couldn’t be offered by Amazon or regular online shopping centers.

“You can interact with that host, learn about the products, and even ask questions and have them navigate through the store for you,” she said.

“It can be something for everyone. One day we might be able to sell toys to a certain customer, then we might be able to do apparel for women. It might be beauty products; the options are endless.”

The owner of Mall Of America is Triple Five Group, a company owned by the Edmonton-based Ghermezian family. The Ghermezian’s mall empire is a trifecta made up of MOA, West Edmonton Mall, and the New Jersey mall American Dream, which was scheduled for an extravagant grand opening on March 19th but then canceled after the COVID-19 shutdown.

The Ghermezians spent 9 years building the American Dream mall and mortgaged both of their other malls to fund it. It is over 3 million square feet and has amusement park rides, a Dreamworks water park, Angry Birds mini-golf, a ski slope, and 450 of all the biggest name brand retail shops.

Since the malls are financially linked, the botched grand opening of the American Dream mall only adds to the difficulties that MOA faces. According to Trepp LLP, a company that tracks commercial mortgages, the Ghermezians have not paid off any of their $1.4 billion mortgages on Mall of America since May. The financial details of the other privately owned malls are unclear, but presumably in danger of default.

Aside from the financial difficulties within the mall empire and the ongoing COVID-19  situation, Mall Of America and the broader retail industry is likely to continue facing difficulties because of drastic changes in the spending habits of Americans.

As millions of Americans continue to lose their jobs and their savings, many of them have turned into “savers” instead of “spenders”, reluctant to go to the mall and buy things like clothes, electronics, and smoothies.

All these factors are making the shopping mall industry much riskier for investors, causing some analysts to predict 25% of all of them to be dead in the next 5 years, and trying to figure out what would even replace the giant buildings when the malls leave, as office space real estate is vulnerable to the growing work-from-home trend.

A couple of Sears and JC Penney stores have already been in talks with Amazon about turning their old department stores into fulfillment centers and warehouses, but that still leaves thousands of other malls in the country with undecided fates.

The Mall Of America has laid off 200 employees and is expected to furlough an additional 178 in the coming months.

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