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Putting visitors at the heart of the mall experience

Opinion piece by Magic Memories founder John Wikstrom originally published in Blooloop

An evolution of the world’s biggest and best shopping malls presents a unique opportunity to put visitors at the heart of the mall experience, says John Wikstrom, founder of Magic Memories, a global leader in experience capture for the attractions industry.

Even before COVID, shopping malls were struggling. And with the pandemic accelerating changing customer behaviours – think online shopping and contactless deliveries – the traditional shopping mall model has faced more challenges in recent years.

However, with change comes opportunity. As shopping malls continue to evolve and reclaim a place in our hearts, and the cash in our pockets, many have been focusing on what truly makes them special – the experience.

Over the decades the experience of shopping malls has evolved. No longer do malls simply cater for the annual Christmas shopping trips, or Black Friday and Boxing Day sales. They are now home to Michelin star restaurants, branded experiences we love, theme parks and global entertainment attractions.

Shopping malls may have evolved their offerings. However, many have yet to embrace new ways of connecting with visitors – by putting those visitors at the heart of the shopping mall experience.

Magic Memories has recently partnered with American Dream, a brand new mega mall, located close to New York City. American Dream is home to a Nickelodeon theme park, DreamWorks water park, SEA LIFE Aquarium, LEGOLAND Discovery Center, Angry Birds mini-golf and every conceivable type of food and retail experience. This new mall is an unrivalled destination for indoor family entertainment.

But that often misquoted “if you build it, they [sic] will come” (the original Field of Dreams quote is actually ‘he will come’) idea, suggesting that you only need to create it for people to want to do it rarely works in the age of the “attention economy.” Instead, brands must find ways to disrupt that endless scroll.

Cue engaging and authentic personal content. Content that puts the individual into the heart of the experience and shares the very reason why the visitor came in the first place.

Making the guest the hero of their own story

Think about your first shopping mall experience. I grew up half a world away from the mega mall models of the US or the retail fashion hubs in the UK. New Zealand’s malls were tiny by comparison. But the special times that those trips to the mall marked for me are still etched in my memory. I remember things like an afternoon out to find a Mother’s Day gift, playing spacies with my mates, and Christmas shopping with the family.

Now imagine the value of sharing that. When we began this journey back in 1995 in New Zealand’s adventure tourism capital, Queenstown, the world looked very different.

We’ve undergone a technological revolution which has significantly altered how we work, live and play. But our role as connectors to a special moment in someone’s life, a celebration of an amazing place, a brand we already love or great people, is still the same. The magic is, and has always been, in the content itself.

Rather than traditional marketing typical of shopping malls and retail experiences that position strangers, namely aspirational ‘types’ into the heart of an advertising campaign, it’s time to place your guest at the centre of the experience. It’s time to position them as the heroes of their own stories.

Our partnership with American Dream does just that. So far, we’ve introduced experiences into Nickelodeon Universe theme park and DreamWorks indoor waterpark, SEA LIFE Aquarium and LEGOLAND Discovery Center plus some special events and seasonal activations. We also are currently planning content experiences for other key branded retail experiences.

The potential for coordinated content capture campaigns that cross over retail, food and attractions is endless.

Creating special memories

Creating annual activation campaigns that keep content experiences fresh, relevant, and personal is such an exciting and rewarding proposition. For us, this defines what it means to be a Magic Memories partner.

Take, for instance, a day like Mother’s Day. Fun, interactive content experiences served up to a visitor’s mobile device themed according to the special day being celebrated means they engage with your brand, not only while they’re there in the mall, but afterwards. And the content they share with their own friends and family is exactly that ‘user-generated content’ every authentic brand aspires to create.

Linking people to brands and seasonal activations is the core business of a shopping mall. This drives higher visitation and engagement across all their tenancies. Creating engaging digital content that people love and share is key. This does not need to be solely the stuff of theme parks or adrenaline rides.

Memories are created in every experience and for many of us, a family Christmas shopping experience may be just as special as a water slide. Malls will continue to evolve and thrive. And we are there to help them remind visitors about what they do best – creating memories.


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