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ECE tests the “Digital Mall” – Online product search for brick-and-mortar stores

ECE Future Labs’ newest development is the “Digital Mall,” an online product search which can be found on the website of the Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum (shopping center) in Hamburg. With the Digital Mall, ECE makes it possible for customers to get information on the products available in the shopping center – anytime, anywhere.

Joanna Fisher, managing director of Center Management at ECE, explains: “With this pilot project, we’ve taken a major step towards a seamless omni-channel experience. By bridging the gap between online and offline, we can fulfill the desire that many customers have to experience holistic, omni-channel shopping.”

Search online, find offline

According to a November 2015 study published by the auditing and professional consulting services firm PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) (“Store 4.0: The Future of Brick-and-Mortar Business”), 64% of German consumers do research online before buying a product in-store. Digital devices such as smartphones and tablets are increasingly used in preparing to make a purchase.

However, the difficulty in that lies in finding out whether a desired product from a specific brand is available in the shopping center in the preferred color and correct size, as well as in finding out in which shop it can be found. This is a competitive disadvantage in comparison with online shopping, as the customer may turn to an online shop even though the product would have been immediately available in a brick-and-mortar store. Moreover, the customer must do this without competent product advice; if the incorrect product is purchased, they must also deal with the additional expense of sending it back.

This is precisely where the “Digital Mall” comes into the picture: Starting now, customers can experience the diversity of goods for sale in various shops in the “Product” category on the Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum’s website, get information online on what is on offer, reserve the items, and subsequently buy them in-store at the relevant retailer in the shopping center.

“The ‘Digital Mall’ product search is intended to help our customers finding the exact products they’re looking for, both before and during their visit to the center,” elaborates Sebastian Baumann, head of ECE Future Labs.

Connection to retailers’ stocks

This is made possible by a connection between the center’s website and participating retailers, with data provided by the Berlin start-up Locafox on the one hand, and a direct connection on the other. Ten retailers in the Alstertal-Einkaufszentrum are currently using this service, including Saturn, AppelrathCüpper, Lloyd, and Brax. These retailers’ local product range presently encompasses around 40,000 products; it is displayed with item descriptions, prices, and current availability. The connection of further shops such as Christ and Camel Active will be coming soon.

As far as ECE is aware, no other German shopping center yet offers a service of this kind.
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