Short Pump Town Center gets a little more social

shortpumppromoAdd Short Pump Town Center to the list of businesses that want in on the social networking trend.

The mall’s owners plan to launch Shoptopia.com this week as a new site aiming to direct shoppers who enjoy online shopping to local brick-and-mortar shopping centers. The site was developed by Denver-based Mallfinder Network.

But with retail sales weakening in the third quarter and the National Retail Federation predicting the worst holiday season since 2002, the arrival of Shoptopia might suggest that malls are desperately looking for new strategies to attract customers.

Its utility might be limited. While consumers increasingly use the Internet to research product information, they tend to be hesitant to interact with store websites. For every Facebook or MySpace, there are hundreds of failed me-too sites which don’t fill a niche. Developing a website that engages customers is often more difficult than retailers expect.

“In the world of media and marketing and more with consumer behavior, brand advertising and traditional means of marketing are clearly waning, and user word of mouth marketing and user approval of things is really taking over,” said John Dee, president of Mallfinder Network.

“We believe things like this represent the ability to do more with less as retailers have a rough ride for the next year,” said Dee.

The large majority of retail sales will continue to be made in stores, according to Dee. He says 75% of shoppers research products online before heading to the store. His firm promotes web-based marketing as the most cost-efficient for shopping centers. BizSense was unable to learn how much was spent on the project.

He says the site will help consumers be more savvy as they cut back on discretionary spending by informing them about deals and sales. Shoppers will be able to share reviews and comments with other site visitors.

“Consumers expect to be heard by the brands and retails and consumers, want to be able to speak out, and we think we captured an ability for consumers to have a fun and interesting place to do that,” said Dee.

If the site does well, Mallfinder plans to expand the concept to other Forest City properties and other clients across the country.

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