Shopping malls have seen more popular days. But since the vast majority of retail purchases continue to take place in brick-and-mortar stores, there is still a lot of opportunity for innovation there.
Westfield Corporation, which operates 32 large U.S. malls including Garden State Plaza in New Jersey and Westfield San Francisco Centre, is looking to a host of startups to spur that innovation. Today, the company’s Labs division welcomes 10 young companies to a program that it hopes results in pilot tests between them and retailers.
Westfield is working with the digital advertising agency R/GA to plan, run and host the so-called startup accelerator, which will last three months and take place in San Francisco. The 10 startups will get an investment and creative help from R/GA, but one of the main goals is to actually make business connections between the startups and participating companies such as Macy’s, Verizon, Shopify and Walmart.
“Part of the goals of the program is a little bit different from an average accelerator,” said Stephen Plumlee, managing director of R/GA Ventures. “It’s focused on actual business development and pilots.”
The startups include Happy Returns, which is trying to play matchmaker between e-commerce brands that want to allow online customers to return items to nearby malls and malls that would love extra foot traffic; Oak, which is building interactive mirrors for fitting rooms; plus two startups focused on chat bots, automated messaging tools that can mimic human conversational skills.
The startups typically receive $120,000 in return for a 5 percent ownership stake, but some older companies in the group will give up a smaller stake.