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Fall 2011 Want Customers to Find Your Product?
There’s an App for That!

Westfield’s mobile app introduces new product search feature.

Shoppers tired of searching the local mall to find just the right pair of shoes, sunglasses, or maybe a cool watch, now have a new digital tool in their pockets. Westfield is introducing new technology that lets a customer’s fingers do the walking.

Westfield has added an innovative new product search feature to its Westfield Mobile App, which is now available for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android smart phones. “We are very excited about it. It is the first of its kind for any mobile mall app that allows you to search the merchandise sold by retailers within specific shopping malls,” says David Towers, vice president of digital business for Westfield, a global mall owner that has its U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles. “We are hoping that this will be a game changer for us in how shoppers visit the mall, and how they find merchandise,” adds Towers.

Shoppers using the Westfield App can enter a description of an item, such as “silver handbag,” or a specific brand, such as “Calvin Klein jeans” into their handheld device for a particular mall. A quick product search generates a list of items that match those criteria. Product results can be further sorted by relevance, retailer and price.

The Westfield Mobile App was first launched in November 2010 for the iPhone. Initially, the app featured basic mall info such as a directory, current promotions or events, and a list of movies and show times. In August, Westfield introduced the app on the Blackberry and Android platforms, and launched the product search function on the iPhone. The search function is now available on all three Smartphone platforms. Currently, the database includes information for more than 100,000 products from 200 merchants at Westfield’s 55 malls in the United States.

How it works

Westfield developed the unique application that uses Google Commerce Search. Essentially those retailers who enroll in Google Commerce Search provide their product data field. Google aggregates that data into a simple database. So when a shopper has a request for say Nike tennis shoes, the app will query Google for those stores in a particular mall that have a product or products matching that request—delivering results only for those stores at a particular mall that the customer selects.

There is no fee for Westfield mall tenants to participate in the new mobile app. Merchants simply need to be using the free Google Product Search service and should contact Westfield to be included. Google Product Search is a free service that allows shoppers to quickly and easily find a retailer’s product listings on Google. However, retailers would have to follow certain guidelines for submitting feeds to Google Product Search. For example, a retailer needs to have an e-commerce website and be selling/shipping products through an online channel to qualify.

Perks for retailers

So far both merchants and shoppers have embraced the mobile app. Since the new product search feature was added, Westfield has experienced a tremendous spike in the number of shoppers using it. Overall, the free app has generated more than 100,000 downloads. “We are hopeful that this will only grow in the days and months ahead,” says Towers.

The technology could provide a nice boost for specialty leasing tenants, particularly during the busy holiday shopping season. In some malls, Westfield has specialty retailers that do gangbusters around the holiday for special products such as remote control helicopters. Those retailers could potentially load their inventory data feed into Google. So when a customer enters “helicopter” or “remote control toys” that particular kiosk would be included in the product search results.

“We are very excited about the feasibility of this app,” says Towers. “We feel that it will give our shoppers an added degree of capability, convenience and value when shopping at a Westfield mall, and we have high expectations for it going into the holiday season.”

The 200 merchants that are currently participating in the mobile app account for 85% of total sales at Westfield malls. “The reception that we have gotten from the merchants so far has been extremely positive,” says Towers. “The only limiting factor is that merchants need a product feed to submit to Google. If they can do that, they can participate, and we encourage all of our merchants to do so,” he adds.

Beth Mattson-Teig

Beth Mattson-Teig is a freelance business writer based in Minneapolis, Minn. She specializes in covering the national commercial real estate industry.

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