The Mall of America runs a sophisticated social media operation, but its technology stumbles in one glaring way: The mall doesn’t provide Wi-Fi to shoppers.
“They definitely should have it,” said Jaide Kulyas, who works at the Perfumania kiosk on the mall’s first floor. “A lot of people get lost in here because it’s so big.”
Many visitors try to use their smartphones to consult maps of the mall, she added. When they have trouble getting a cellular signal, they wind up asking her or other employees for help.
Now, at long last, Mall of America officials promise that Wi-Fi is on the way.
“The goal is to have it done by the holidays,” said Jill Renslow, the mall’s senior vice president of business development and marketing. “We are optimistic and are doing our best.”
The service is expected to debut around the same time as the mall’s first smartphone app. As well, mall officials are exploring pickup services and enhanced valet parking options that may also be ready by the holidays.
Mall officials hear a lot of complaints about the absence of Wi-Fi, a wireless connection to the Internet that is usually cheaper for individuals to use than cellular service.
While many stores in the mall offer Wi-Fi, the absence of a single reliable signal forces shoppers to repeatedly search and log on as they move around. Indeed, providing free Wi-Fi has become table stakes in the retail world as more and more people use smartphones as they shop, looking up product reviews, finding coupons and deals and making online purchases if a store is out of stock of an item.
Southdale Center, Ridgedale Center and the Twin Cities Premium Outlets all provide it. So does the West Edmonton Mall, the even larger mall in Canada that’s owned by the same company as the Mall of America. So what took the nation’s largest shopping destination so long to offer Wi-Fi?
Part of the challenge, Renslow said, was the immense size of the mall, which spans 4.2 million square feet. On top of that, she said mall executives wanted a flexible network that be expanded in the future. They also wanted a system that could more precisely detect a shopper’s location, which will allow the mall’s upcoming smartphone app to help shoppers better navigate the mall.
In the meantime, shoppers can detect Wi-Fi in parts of the mall from places like Caribou Coffee, Starbucks, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Best Buy, Sephora, Athleta and Nike.
On Friday morning, Becca Davis ducked into a Starbucks on the mall’s first floor to buy a drink and to use the shop’s free Wi-Fi. She recalled the frustration of not being able to access Wi-Fi when she worked at the mall a year ago.
“It was really inconvenient because you could never get your messages,” she said. “I work at Rosedale now and they have Wi-Fi for the whole mall.”
The 23-year-old Mall of America is nearly done with a multiyear makeover of its corridors that cost tens of millions of dollars. That work is expected to be completed in August, when it is also slated to open a $325 million expansion that will include new shops and restaurants as well as a J.W. Marriott hotel and an office tower.
Renslow said the mall is also in preliminary talks with Curbside, a California start-up that provides a service where customers can use an app to arrange to pick up items from a store or mall without having to get out of their cars. Curbside is also working with Minneapolis-based Target Corp. and Richfield-based Best Buy to test its service at a handful of stores on the West Coast.
While it is not yet a done deal, Renslow said she’d like to have a service like that in place by the holidays. That would be a way to combat one of the mall’s biggest competitors at that time of year — online shopping. And she said it would give a way for busy folks to find a way to fit shopping into their schedules.
She added research has shown so far that shoppers often end up parking and doing some extra shopping even after picking up the items at the curb.
“You can now go try on that dress or you can pick up those shoes you’ve been looking at because you now have time to yourself to go shopping,” she said. “It also gets you to go to the mall more frequently.”
Curbside did not respond to a request for comment.
Mall executives are also trying to alleviate some of the parking headaches by giving shoppers more valet options. Valet parking is current offered at Nordstrom and the Radisson Blu Hotel. Mall officials want to add a couple more drop-off spots and, in a twist, allow shoppers to drop a car off on one side of the giant building and be able to get back on another side.
“Because we’re so big, we want to make sure you don’t have to go to your car,” Renslow said. “We will bring your car to you.”