Simon Property Group Using Elves Equipped With AI To Boost Sales

By Franco Faraudo

Even though Thanksgiving has not yet come and gone, retail experts are already thinking about the holiday shopping season. There are already concerns that we might see a somewhat muted response from shoppers. A Gallop poll has shown that shoppers predict they will spend slightly less this year than last (although who doesn’t spend more than they expect on gifts?). That number is up from the low it hit during the pandemic, but the slowing economy and stubbornly low consumer sentiment is worrisome.

Shopping centers have been experimenting with ways to get more people in the door this holiday season, as well as spur more in-store sales to fight against the growth of e-commerce. One of the ways being explored by one of the largest retail property owners, Simon Property Group, is an initiative that they are calling HolidAI Gift Finder. Two of their properties will be staffed with “elves” who will be equipped with tablets that use artificial intelligence to help shoppers find the right gift for everyone on their list.

Unlike Simon’s previous attempt to help shoppers find goods called Simon Search, which was rolled out to 187 locations earlier this year, HolidAI Gift Finder is also a way to create in-person experiences. “We know our shoppers crave connecting in real life and finding joy in discovering the new and different,” Simon’s CMO, Lee Sterling, said in a statement. “Our HolidAI Gift Finder experience not only elevates gift-giving in a new and engaging way, it’s another special holiday memory waiting to be made.”

Artificial intelligence has been used by online shopping companies for some time now, but it might be this personal touch that really helps them connect with shoppers. In-person retail has turned out to be much more resilient than many expected in the age of Amazon; the amount of goods that Americans are buying online is starting to level off. In fact, publicly traded retail real estate owners like Simon are now approaching their pre-pandemic valuations. If shopping centers are able to use technology and memorable experiences to boost in-store sales, it could be a lesson for other property types (I’m looking at you, offices) on the potential to do the same. While the elves at the North Pole are busy working, those down here are being trained to use technology to spread some holiday cheer…and loosen up people’s wallets.

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