While shoppers may still hunt fruitlessly for a parking space during the holidays, the Mall of America is trying to minimize the hassle with parking updates on its website, Twitter feed and interactive road signs.
Since Black Friday, the mall has offered a Web-based, color-coded map of its parking lots that shows how congested they are, said Bridget Jewell, a mall spokeswoman.
You can find the parking lot map on your smart phone's Web browser at mallofamerica.com.
The website will appear in your browser as m.mallofamerica.com, which means it's a mobile-only website. Click "directions and parking" for the map, then click "parking." Green means spots are available, yellow means congested and red means the lot is busy.
The mall can keep tabs on how full its lots are by electronically counting vehicles as they enter and leave the lots, and by getting visual updates from parking employees who scan the lots for signs of traffic congestion, Jewell said.
The mall has 12,550 parking spaces adjacent to the building, and several hundred more in a lot across Lindau Avenue from the mall building, Jewell said. Since the average vehicle brings three people to the mall, filling up every parking space would mean that more than 38,000 people are on site, she said. That doesn't happen often, but the parking lots are typically full in mid-afternoon every Saturday in December, she said.
The Mall of America's parking strategy is aligned with a national trend for shopping malls, which see shoppers' parking experiences as one of the key ingredients in attracting customers.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that "to keep potential shoppers from driving off, malls across the country are deploying technology to help shoppers find a desirable spot." A mall outside of New York City uses overhead sensors and cameras to identify open parking spots inside a parking garage, the Journal said.
Also new around the Mall of America since Black Friday are interactive highway signs, owned by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDot), which flash directions to people arriving at or departing from the mall, typically advising them which highway exit or entrance to use, Jewell said. The directions, issued by MnDot, are based on parking lot congestion information provided by the mall and Bloomington Police, she said.
In addition, the mall is in its third year of using Twitter messages (@MallofAmerica) to tell visitors about mall parking conditions. The mall is currently using the Twitter feed to conduct a drawing for a guaranteed Mall parking spot for a day; people can enter by forwarding, or Retweeting, a mall message about the contest to their Twitter followers.
Steve Alexander • 612-673-4553