Spring 2011
Facebook Deals

Malls are now leveraging the power of Facebook to increase consumer traffic and spending.

Millions of people log on to Facebook each day to share their lives with friends and family, and now Facebook users can receive prizes just for interacting with their favorite mall. Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, VA is the first mall in the country to operate Facebook’s new Deals platform. Through Facebook Deals shoppers can “check in” at a specific shopping center, via a mobile application. They can then qualify to receive rewards such as gift cards and merchandise.

Short Pump Town Center worked with Mallfinder Network LLC, a developer and provider of integrated marketing services for the shopping center industry, to set up the Facebook Deals platform. Mallfinder represents more than 300 shopping centers nationwide, providing social media, mobile marketing and online services. As part of its managed social media pack service for shopping centers, Mallfinder now supports set-up and ongoing management of the Facebook Deals feature, as well as prize redemption at participating malls’ guest services.

Short Pump, which is owned and managed by Forest City Enterprises, Inc., adopted Facebook Deals in November and since then two other Forest City properties also have started using the platform (Antelope Valley Mall in Palmdale, CA and The Mall at Robinson in Pittsburgh).

How it works

The types of deals a shopping center can create include an individual deal, the shopper checks in and receives a reward; a friend deal, the shopper must check in along with a friend and both receive the reward; a loyalty deal, if the shopper checks in to the mall or a certain store a specific number of times, he or she gets a reward; or a charity deal, the shopper checks in and the mall or a specific retailer donates money to a charity.

The mall marketing manager chooses the promotion and creates the specific deal in Facebook, which Facebook must approve via email before the deal goes live. This is usually within a couple of days, according to Mallfinder’s senior vice president of marketing and product strategy, Lawrence Phipps.

“We set up the prizes in our database system and give the shopping center a list of barcodes that they can scan or key in to manage the redemption process. The shopper simply shows his or her phone to the mall’s guest services desk to prove that he or she checked in on Facebook. Guest services then provides the gift card or other reward to the shopper, and the customer can also opt-in for email marketing or SMS marketing,” Phipps says.

If a customer opts in, Mallfinder then captures individual shopper preferences and delivers relevant deals via email or text messaging based on gender, declared interests in brands, stores and other criteria.

“Right now this is a passive thing because the shoppers must decide to check in, but we are looking at ways to push notifications to shoppers based on their [location] when they’re at a mall,” Phipps said. “If shoppers sign up for more information, from there we can tailor messages to their interests. If they check in at a store, they get a message with the current deals available.”

Facebook vs. other location-based technology

Facebook Deals faces competition from other location-based social media players such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Phipps notes that each of them has certain advantages. But with its enormous user base Facebook is the guerilla in the room.

“I think other services are still trying to be inventive and bring new things to the table, but they are more niche players with a smaller user base. According to Facebook, it has 500 million users worldwide with 40 percent of them interacting through a mobile device. Comparatively, an article on TechCrunch.com says that as of July 2010, Foursquare had two million users while Gowalla had 340,000.”

According to Phipps, Foursquare focuses more on “narcissism goals” such as being the person to check into a place the most times, while Gowalla excels at multi-location promotions.

“Gowalla has a promotion based on the idea of a scavenger hunt. If you check in at three stores out of five for example, you get a prize. It’s very hard for us to set up a multi-location promotion like this on Facebook Deals or Foursquare because the store management has to handle the redemption and management of it versus guest services, and it’s not always something the retail stores want to deal with.”

One of the challenges for all of these systems right now, according to Phipps, is that none of them are very mature with providing redemption capabilities or reporting. “We’ve actually built our own redemption system to support our approach for shopping centers,” he says.

The benefit of using these location-based tools is that consumers tend to share content around the brand or location when they check in, and users can upload a photo or make a comment. “It’s meaningful for the stores and for us to monitor to see what people say about their brand,” Phipps says.

The learning curve

Beth Mayo, interactive marketing manager with Forest City Enterprises, says the company chose Short Pump Town Center as the first of its properties to test Facebook Deals because of its loyal customer base and already strong Facebook page participation (more than 6,000 fans).

Short Pump implemented an individual deal offering $10 gift cards to the first 50 people who checked in at the mall. “The promotion lasted for a four-day period and we gave away half of the gift cards,” Mayo said. “Short Pump also gained about 85 new fans during the promotion. Overall we saw this as a success, especially since Facebook Deals is relatively new and consumers are still in the discovery phase.” Other Forest City properties, such as Antelope Valley Mall, are beginning to experiment with friend deals to get more people out shopping together.

“The customers at all of our participating properties have really picked up on it and are interacting with our Facebook pages,” Mayo says. “Currently we’re just trying mall gift card promotions, but down the road we’ll expand to tenants and allow them to give merchandise or a gift card to Facebook fans who check in at our shopping centers.”

Forest City is also looking at Foursquare and has experimented with it, but believes Facebook is ultimately the better option. “It’s such a strong medium with great leverage, and considering we already have a strong presence there, we felt that we’d get a better return going to Facebook Deals.”

Although it is growing, ultimately Facebook Deals is a new technology and it will take some time for the public to learn what it’s all about. “We’re in the building awareness phase,” Phipps says. “It’s important to put deals out there for an extended period of time so more people notice them, tell friends, and figure how it works. Facebook is a great medium for word of mouth and we have the ability to influence shoppers as close as possible to the cash register.”

Kristin Larson Contino

Kristin Contino is a freelance writer and copy editor based in Philadelphia. She writes for a variety of print publications and blogs, and also covers women's fiction for examiner.com.
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