According to the recent Forbes Business Report on Retail, five main challenges are facing Mall Operators and Retail Outlet providers in 2018/19.

  • Attract Footfall
  • Engage and Retain shoppers
  • Innovate & Respond to the Digital Disruption
  • Unify experiences: at the mall and online
  • Adopt to Omnichannel: “Clicks and Bricks” have equal weight

Source: Forbes Reports (2017-08-23)

Apart from the international retail dynamics, there is one more significant shift in market conditions for mall operators in the MENA region; specifically in the UAE. According to CBRE, “retail space in the UAE is set to grow by 50 per cent to 4.6 million square metres by 2021”.

With a palpable slow-down in consumer spending; the expanding number of “out-of-the-mall” entertainment options, oversupply and the unprecedented rate of increase in competition will present significant challenges for Retail Marketers in 2018.

Technology, specifically Virtual Reality can help create exceptional retail environments and get those critical footfall and engagement numbers.

According to the Sonar report: ‘Frontierless Retail’ by J Walter Thompson Intelligence

         -80% of shoppers are more likely to visit a mall/ store that offers entertainment

         -79% are more likely to visit stores that provide interactive experiences

         -80% are more likely to visit outlets supplying AR and VR technologies

However, VR technology can do more than attract and entertain shoppers wondering between stores. It can provide a link between the digital and the physical: Attract, Engage and Retain shoppers.

Here are 3 of the latest and most inspiring  VR Technology ideas for Mall and Retail Outlet Operators:

I. Mall entertainment: JC PENNY- Santa’s Grotto Mall Activation. 

The Festive Season is the busiest but also the most competitive time for Malls. Everyone is doing something; everyone is putting up the biggest tree and getting the cheeriest Santa and the elves-but ultimately, most shoppers will go to the nearest mall that has everything. Unless they can experience something worth travelling and battling the crowds for.

JC Penney had flipping the holiday tradition and took customers straight to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole instead of Santa coming to them.

The experience showcased inside 4 mall locations – drew not just the crowds but the news headlines and went viral within days.

“Flying high above the clouds and coming in for a landing at the North Pole, users are greeted with an interactive gaming experience to win gifts based on choosing different adventures in Santa’s Workshop. The usual crew of elves, reindeer, snowman, and even an arctic yeti accompanies the different game adventures.”

Trying something for the first time is always memorable- sharing the experience is even more special.

The JC Penny Santa experience allowed the participant to win gift cards, while the audience watching was also allowed to play along and win coupons after each experience; making it not only an adds game experiences for the user, but also brings the audience in as active participants to win a little something as well.

II. Themed Installations

Have you heard about the importance of being in the right place at the right time? According to, 53% of makeup purchases can be classed as “impulse buy” (Black Friday 2017: women between 19-60 years old).

With the steady rise of online makeup purchases in the United Arad Emirates (49 per cent of online shoppers purchased cosmetics and beauty products- making it the fastest growing category in the UAE) physical stores have their work cut out for them.

In February 2018, ‘Alibaba partnered with the Chinese shopping mall chain InTime to launch an augmented reality restroom mirror. Via the mirror, women using the facilities at the mall can virtually test makeup looks. If they like the products, they can make purchases at an adjacent vending machine using a mobile QR code.

While vending machines are an excellent option for the trial run, we think this type of AR technology can open up many in-mall-engagement possibilities too:

-Like the makeup? Register with the shop and get a voucher.

-Want to get it now? Here are the directions to the store.

-Tried it but not sure? Register for an in-store makeup trial now.

Once the hardware is there, these type of AR  applications can open up a vast list of marketing and advertising opportunities for retailers and mall operators. With the right software solution, these mirrors can be more than just a shiny new tech solution: taking an existing behaviour and resolving an in-the-moment need in a novel way.


III. AR Mall Maps and Customer Service

Have heard about Pokemon Go?

The gaming craze hasn’t just made bored teenagers roam the streets of central cities, but highlighted the many possibilities offered by using location-based Augmented Reality.

AR apps, combining the idea of providing location-based information with the world of augmented reality, via the display of virtual elements over a real-world location. The right VR/ AR software solution can easily integrate with existing mall apps and provide a real-time mall map, customer service and store information; Guide users to featured stores or special offers; Manage traffic and create engagement through virtual treasure hunts and much more.

However, word of caution, as with all new technologies it’s the quality of the software application that can make or break the app’s user experience.

Technology is moving fast. Shoppers in the UAE are expecting more not just for their money, but for their time, their positive reviews and most of all for their loyalty. VR technology can help retailers stay ahead of the competition and create retail environments that effectively attract, engage and retain customers.


-VR Scout, by Jonathan Nafarrete




– THE USE OF APPS FOR SHOPPING MALLS by Victoria Lang, 20th Annual European Real Estate Society Conference, Vienna, 3-6 July 2013