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Multimedia/Interactive: Technology Review

Shopping center developers, owners and managers that are looking for new ways to attract and entertain shoppers - and keep them shopping longer - have a lot of tools to choose from these days.

A wide array of video and audio technologies are now available to create multimedia displays of a scope unimaginable even five years ago. Meanwhile, the cumbersome old ATM kiosk of the 1980s has evolved into an informational and promotional center that, more often than not, is connected to the World Wide Web. Speaking of cyberspace, today's smart center owners don't fear Internet shopping as they did only a year or two ago; instead, they are setting aside space in their malls for facilities that enable shoppers to surf the Web in between visits to their stores.

There are entirely new worlds that are opening up for those who make their living in the retailing and shopping center industries - and we have the latest in multimedia and interactive technologies to thank for that. Check out what the vendors appearing on the following pages have to offer and remember - whatever you want to do, there's a technology out there for you.

NEW VIDEO TRENDS "Traditionally, retailers have used video in stores to entice people to move into a particular location, entertain them, and influence them to buy," according to Craig McManis, director of marketing for Long Beach, Calif.-based Pioneer New Media Technologies ( A subsidiary of Pioneer Electronic Corp., the company is a manufacturer of a variety of products, including industrial DVD-Video players.

In the "old days," recounts McManis, retailers used to hang TV monitors in their stores to entice, entertain, and influence shoppers - but the monitors themselves were usually bulky and unattractive, and the images they presented were not particularly compelling. The late 1980s/early 1990s saw the evolution to projection-cube video walls, typically comprised of stacks of video monitors that create a series of diagonal images. With this type of configuration, notes McManis, "You can create a large, virtually seamless video image, a great tool for big images that performs well in ambient light."

One example of this type of technology at work can be found at San Francisco's Discovery Channel Store at the Sony Metreon. Here, a 120-foot long video wall system, engineered by Burbank, Calif.-based Innovative Design Technologies (, displays MPEG2 encoded Discovery Channel programming, animation and other "tidbits designed to engross and engage visitors," according to company co-founder Brett Armstrong. This video wall system consists of 72 Sony 50-inch cubes in a 2 by 36 configuration, he notes, "and looms high above shoppers in the 11,000 sq. ft. outlet."

FIBER OPTICS AT WORK Denver-based Stratavision Inc. (, a division of American Shizuki Corp., utilizes fiber optic technology that "delivers superior quality, seamless images that can be seen up close and at maximum viewing angles," says company president Chuck Robertson.

Stratavision is a large-format, non-matrixed/non-modular video display that accepts all standard video formats. It uses fiber optics to deliver a single, high-resolution image on screens ranging from 50 inches to 200 inches in size at distances of from 6 feet to 50 feet. "The fiber optic technology actually lets us bend the picture without distorting it," says Robertson, "allowing us to customize the size and shape of the screen."

The first installation of Stratavision in a retail mall is slated for August, reports Robertson. In addition to providing a medium by which mall owners/developers can generate new revenue streams (through sales of video ads), Stratavision "provides a new attraction for the mall and a more entertaining mall experience," he says. Also, Robertson says that, "For mall retailers, it [Stratavision] provides an opportunity for high-quality advertising right inside the mall, when customers are close to their stores and in a buying mood."

UPDATABLE SIGNAGE Exciting things are happening in the world of "updatable digital signage." This trend represents the latest in the evolving use of video in the retail setting, says Pioneer's McManis.

Updatable digital signage is based on a product known as a "plasma display panel," according to McManis, of which Pioneer New Media Technologies produces several models. "These are like lightweight televisions or computer monitors, less than 4 inches deep and 40 inches to 50 inches diagonal, that a designer can comfortably hang nearly anywhere inside a store."

Plasma display technology, combined with the wealth of content made available by computer technology and the bandwidth of the World Wide Web, makes possible signage whose messages can be changed instantly, according to McManis. This is changing the way in which many retailers and mall owners do business, he says.

"A clothing retailer, for example, can have someone sitting at a desk in the home office, monitoring both a stock control screen and a digital signage screen on their computer," explains McManis. That person can note that the weather in the Southeast is extremely hot, and decide to promote sales of shorts and T-shirts in the retailer's stores as a result. "That individual pushes a few buttons and downloads some content via the Web to the updatable digital signage in specific stores in the Southeast region," he says. "In turn, that same person can check the stock control screen, and almost immediately check the response to the promotion as it runs."

SOUNDS While visuals are an important part of creating a distinctive environment for retailing, sound is also a powerful tool, notes John Miceli, president of Orlando-based Soundelux Showorks (

Sound is intrinsically more interactive in its application, according to Miceli. "It is different from watching a visual, where the content is completely controlled and presented," he says. "When used correctly, sound can create an atmosphere or a mood, or take a mood a little further, by causing people to tap into their own imaginations."

Soundelux Showorks specializes in systems design and installation. A production arm offers digital sound design, music composition, digital dialog recording, and post editorial for feature films, television, theme parks and special venues. The company's systems division specializes in the design and installation of audio, video, lighting and show control systems for high-technology entertainment venues, including theme parks, simulators, theaters, casinos, resorts, performing arts centers and themed retailers and restaurants. On the retail side, Soundelux clients have included The Official All-Star Cafe, NikeTown, and Mills Corp.'s Ontario Mills (Ontario, Calif.) and Katy Mills (Houston).

At the same time, the use of sound in creating atmosphere in a mall is very cost-effective. "For the experience that can be created," notes Miceli, "audio technology is very available and very reasonable in cost."

AN IN-MALL NETWORK Sights and sounds are brought together by Irvine, Calif.-based Skytron Corp. ( in the form of its national large-screen mall network.

The Skytron Network delivers this programming on patented 4 ft. by 7 ft. HDTV tri-screen displays. These are suspended in mall food courts and other outside-the-home venues, forming multi-sided systems that engage audiences from every direction. Additionally, each screen is individually Internet-addressable, enabling programming and advertising to be specifically tailored to individual locations.

Programming is centrally controlled and distributed via the Internet and satellite, according to Skytron chairman and CEO Joe Salesky. Programming includes lifestyle, fashion, food, sports and entertainment, he notes, much of it provided by New York City-based Centerseat Inc. (, a global digital media and commerce facilitation company.

TAILORED PROGRAMMING Mall managers can switch between Skytron's network offerings and local programming, adds Salesky, enabling them to provide features such as local sports events or other items of interest to local mall shoppers.

Addressing shoppers that are already inside a mall is the main purpose behind the Skytron system, says Salesky. This is a relatively untapped field when it comes to advertising, he notes.

"Research has shown that approximately 70% of all purchasing decisions are made within a mall, and that 68% of all consumer products are purchased at the mall - but only 1% of advertising is expended there," explains Salesky.

Building upon other research showing that 33% of all mall traffic winds up in the food court, Skytron places its displays in this strategic area. "The food court is a part of the mall where people are seated and receptive - very much like a television viewing audience at home," notes Salesky. But, unlike a home viewing audience, "Shoppers in a food court are aisles, as opposed to miles, from products," he explains, "and because they are in the mall, they are receptive to hearing ads about products."

The Skytron Network's programming is interspersed with advertising spots, typically following a 1.5-minute ad spot with a 3.5-minute non-ad segment pattern, according to Salesky. "Advertisers get their spots placed, not against a bunch of other ads, but against a program appropriate to their audience," he explains, "so that they can effectively reach a particular demographic."

The Skytron Network is currently being deployed throughout the mall portfolio of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based CBL & Associates, adds Salesky, following the completion of a pilot program in three of the REIT's Nashville-area malls.

BRICKS AND CLICKS TOGETHER Smart shopping mall owners and managers no longer view Internet-based retailing as a threat, according to Brent D. Earles, executive vice president of Sales & Marketing for Irving, Texas-based BigFatWow, Inc. ( This company's product, BigFatWow!, is an entertainment destination that provides free, high-speed Internet access and HDTV quality programming for mall shoppers. Launched this past April, the company, as of this writing, has agreements to place its "Wow Centers" in 20 malls (see sidebar on page 108).

"What we are seeing in the shopping center industry is the kind of evolution we saw with other industries in their relationship with the Internet," says Earles. "After 1998's year of curiosity, 1999 was a year of resistance by the shopping center industry to the Net and e-commerce," he notes, "with 2000 shaping up to be a year of acceptance and integration."

A Wow Center consists of up to 12 Internet computer stations/"Wow Stations" equipped with full T-1 access, explains Earles. These stations allow for comprehensive Internet access with site-blocker software ensuring that these public stations remain family-friendly, he notes.

In addition, Wow Centers are configured to accommodate up to six 42-inch, flat-panel, gas-plasma displays with HDTV capability, plus six 27-inch TV monitors. Sound cones deliver high-quality sound at strategic points for programming and advertising where audio is essential.

Benefits to mall owners include incremental revenues from the Wow Centers, according to Earles. Also, "Mall owners can integrate their Internet initiatives directly into their malls," he says, giving them "the power to promote mall-specific advertising, branding and customer service features." Meanwhile, "Wow Centers keep shoppers in malls longer with a fun, entertaining experience," says Earles, "while building loyalty by providing a convenience and a service to shoppers."

KIOSK KORNER Today's kiosk represents a huge leap forward from the original ATM (automated teller machine), according to Doug Fonte, CEO of North Salt Lake, Utah-based Companion Systems (, a maker of drive-up kiosks and canopies, interactive kiosks, surrounds and enclosures, and financial centers.

Not only has technology grown more advanced, its uses have also multiplied. "The reach of the kiosk has gone far beyond the limited transaction capability of the old ATM - what we see happening with them now in shopping centers is definitely multifaceted," says Fonte. "In today's center," he notes, "kiosks can entertain, they can inform, and they can also connect you to virtually anybody's Web site."

"The use of kiosks is growing in retailing because, in my opinion, they provide a new and easily accessible channel to consumers," according to Karen Etingin, vice president for public relations at Mountain View, Calif.-based VDO Road Digital Inc. (

This company provides retail, "e-tail" and mail-order businesses with customized broadband solutions that include the multimedia, Web-enabled e-commerce kiosk ROADAGENT. This is an interactive shopping agent/kiosk whose features include touch-screen access, secure credit card transactions, high-quality video and audio for product presentation, and software that allows shoppers to browse product information, listen to product videos, and place orders for delivery.

A CASE FOR KIOSKS There are other reasons for the kiosks' growth in popularity, says Etingin. "There is the novelty aspect, a growing ease-of-use aspect, and there is the fact that consumers can shop from the comfort of their home, the privacy of their laptops, and increasingly, from kiosk locations within malls and shopping centers," she explains.

Some barriers to widespread use of shopping kiosks remain to be overcome, says Etingin. "Technological hurdles include the need for broadband connections in locations that may not currently have them," she notes, "as well as the cost of Internet connections in malls and shopping centers." But, she adds, "I feel that once landlords begin to see and understand the value of terminals and kiosks, internet/broadband access will increasingly be viewed as a necessity for their tenants, rather than a tenant improvement."

Many landlords have apparently already gotten the message in some form or the other. There are currently some 250 Centerlinq kiosks in 20 malls in the United States, reports Melanie Baker, director of marketing for Van Nuys, Calif.-based Centerlinq ( This company's kiosks are the backbone of an interactive marketing, advertising and promotional network located within shopping malls and accessible by consumers via the Internet.

This mall system consists of large video monitors in common areas such as food courts, and interactive touch-screen videos in other key high-traffic areas. Consumers can repeatedly access the Centerlinq system for money-saving coupons, sales notices and premiums; meanwhile, advertisers can have links to their Web sites featured on the system.

NON-RETAIL DEPLOYMENT Outside the shopping center, "We have found that e-tailers are searching for affordable points of contact with the public, and the e-commerce kiosk is the way to give them just that," according to Rohit Bhapkar, director of strategic relationships and marketing for Etobicoke, Ontario-based e-smart Commerce (

This new company, which began operations this past February, plans its first kiosk deployment for August 2000, Bhapkar reports. The lobbies of rental apartment buildings are the initial target for kiosks that allow tenants to shop online for groceries, pharmacy/drug items, books, recorded music, and possibly toys and/or pet supplies.

"Tenants are eagerly looking forward to the service," says Bhapkar. "They have given great responses in the surveys and focus groups that have been conducted," he says. "In particular, our tenant survey revealed that 15% to 45% of tenants, depending upon the item, would use the kiosk to actually shop for these items."

SHOPPERS MONEY BOARD Currently deployed in a number of grocery stores in various Minnesota markets, the Shoppers Money Board (SMB) is a proposed nationwide network of instant coupon/store location touch screen systems, according to John Matthias, president, owner and creator of St. Louis Park, Minn.-based Shoppers Money Board (

Designed to be located at the mall and retail store entrances, the Shoppers Money Board is a type of kiosk with a large interactive touch screen, 3 feet high and 4 feet wide, that is capable of displaying 48 product spaces. When a particular space on the touch screen is pressed, a money-saving coupon is quickly printed.

This system quickly and easily allows consumers to obtain store coupons and locate the store within the mall, eliminating the need to clip coupons or remember to bring them to the store. "My intent was to make this as easy as possible for consumers to use," says Matthias. "Customers simply touch a product space and the coupon for that product is printed in seconds," he notes.

In addition to the value offered by the coupon, the colorful lighted touch screen presents the product brand image in an attractive manner, says Matthias. "In effect, the Shoppers Money Board serves as an in-mall/in-store billboard," he says, "capable of delivering promotions that meet the needs of today's consumers in areas such as brand selections, new products information and additional bounce-back product savings."

AT THE POINT OF SALE Your customers have been lured into your store by an array of sights and sounds. You've directed them to the merchandise you needed to move yesterday. They have availed themselves of money-saving coupons at one of several kiosks located in and around your store. Now they're ready to check out.

What better time to cross-sell them other products or services, offer them an extended service plan on their purchase, or gather some information about them? That's the concept behind the POS marketing technology offered by San Jose, Calif.-based ( ads show up on Web-enabled color terminal displays located at checkout counters. Along with the line-item listing of purchases, the system flashes ads, on-screen coupons, information about in-store promotions, and messages to the customer that is checking out. Everything that the customer sees is targeted precisely to his/her own purchases - pet food ads go to people who buy pet food, diapers to those who buy diapers, etc.

Retailers utilizing this system can customize messages to different situations, according to marketing communications manager Anne Knight. "And importantly, ad presentation does not extend payment transaction time," she notes, adding, "The number of ads a shopper will see is determined by the time it takes to complete the transaction."

WHAT'S NEXT? Plasma display panels. Interactive kiosks. MPEG2 encoded programming. Large-format video displays. Look at the multimedia and interactive technologies of today - and behold what's on tap for the retailing of the future, says Pioneer's McManis.

"First, imagine the application of today's wireless telecommunications technologies - such as Bluetooth, a wireless communication chipset - that we all will soon have in our cell phones and personal assistants," says McManis.

"Then picture a plasma display sign located in a mall," McManis says, painting a mental picture. "You walk up to it and see an image of a shirt you might like to purchase. Your personal assistant with Bluetooth starts communicating with the sign. And the sign downloads an electronic coupon to your personal assistant, which says that if you go to a certain retailer within the next half hour, you'll get 20% off this shirt."

The interplay of wireless technology and plasma display signs will be the wave of the future in shopping center retailing, according to McManis. "It will be the way for all of us to navigate through stores and shopping centers," he says, "and it is based on real-world technologies that are in place today."O

In a deal announced this past May, BigFatWow reached an agreement with Phoenix-based shopping center developer Westcor Partners that gives shoppers access to the Internet, information and entertainment in the form of "Wow Centers."

Westcor's first Wow Center is slated to be launched at its new Paradise Valley Mall, a 1.2 million sq. ft. regional center that is anchored by Robinson's-May, Macy's, Dillard's, and JCPenney. Currently under construction, the mall is scheduled to open in July 2000.

"We're very excited about the integration of 'bricks and clicks' at Paradise Valley," says Julie LaBenz, director of strategic marketing for Westcor.

Located adjacent to the new corporate headquarters of high-tech heavyweight Sun Microsystems, Paradise Valley Mall is sited in a market with "a very high-tech residential base," according to LaBenz. "We know that there is a lot of Internet usage in this market," she notes, "and so we wanted to make sure from the start that Paradise Valley is on the cutting edge when it comes to this kind of technology."

To be located on the mall's lower level near its main entrance, The Wow Center in Paradise Valley Mall "opens up some enormous opportunities for us," according to LaBenz. "First, we see it as providing an amenity for shoppers," she notes. "At the Wow Center, they can check their e-mail and view a wide variety of Web-based video and graphics on a high-speed Internet connection," she explains.

Additionally, "The Wow Center user interface will provide marketing opportunities for marketing partners and sponsors," says LaBenz, "as well as help shoppers navigate the mall and find what they want."

Like growing numbers of traditional retailers, mall developers such as Westcor are taking a more positive view of the e-commerce world of the Internet, opening the way for concepts such as the Wow Center, says BigFatWow executive vice president Brent Earles.

"I think [these groups] are starting to realize that e-commerce is not the enemy - any more than catalog companies were when they first hit the scene," according to Earles. "As a matter of fact," he notes, "some of the greatest stores you see in malls today started out as catalog companies."

Westcor plans to open additional Wow Centers in other malls in its portfolio later this year. "We are always interested in adding value to our shoppers' experience," adds LaBenz "By installing a Wow Center, we increase our mall's functionality and enhance the services shoppers can enjoy," she notes. At the same time, "BigFatWow's ability to help define and implement Westcor's Internet strategy is also a powerful component of this alliance," according to LaBenz.

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