The Mall of America’s New Chatbot Aims to Make Your Holiday Shopping Easy

It also has an Amazon Alexa voice skill

The Mall of America is launching a chatbot for the holiday season.
Headshot of Marty Swant

It’s been more than 20 years since the Mall of America starred in the holiday hit film “Jingle All The Way,” but if Arnold Schwarzenegger ran the halls this season for a remake, he could have a little help from artificial intelligence.

Today, Minnesota’s massive mall and key tourist attraction is launching its own chatbot for the holiday season. The bot—available across various platforms, including Mall of America’s website, mobile app and Facebook page—will let users ask questions so they can plan before they arrive. They can also ask for directions when they’re there, brainstorm gifts to buy, and learn about the mall’s deals or events. In addition to the text-based bot, the Mall and developer party Satisfi Labs created a voice-enabled skill to access the bot through Amazon Alexa.

“When you think about maybe visiting the mall for the first time and you have your whole family with you, some kids maybe want to go see the rides, some might want to see a movie, and maybe your husband or your partner [may want] to go somewhere else and you want to go somewhere else. It’s quite overwhelming,” said Justine Santa Cruz, vp of strategic partnerships and alliances for Satisfi Labs. “You don’t even know where to park for something as big as that.”

To develop the app, the team used troves of the mall’s historical data about shoppers to understand their needs. Developers also analyzed communication with users on the mall’s Twitter and Facebook pages to get an idea of frequently asked questions—and how human customer service reps responded to those questions.

This isn’t the first first time the Mall of America has developed a chatbot for holiday shoppers. Last year, it partnered with Satisfi Labs and IBM to create the Experience List Formulator (E.L.F. for short, a chatbot that gave shoppers a personalized shopping experience.

Other brands are also betting on bots for the first time as a new way to engage potential shoppers. Last week, Louis Vuitton launched a bot on Facebook Messenger to enable users to search for products, and earlier this year, Levi’s launched its own bot to help shoppers find the right style and size in a more customized way.

According to the Mall of America, retailers provided content for the mall to use across various ad campaigns and promotions that will be delivered through the bot. The mall then will aggregate and syndicate that content across both paid and owned media. Santa Cruz added that there will be more opportunities for expanding content from tenants as the they refine the bot.

While the flagship feature is the ability to pre-plan a visit to the mall, it’ll also help frequent shoppers discover things they’re not used to looking for. Santa Cruz said it “kind of switches the perspective of what it means to go to a mall.”

“I go to the mall, I park at the same lot and always go to the same stores,” she said, adding that the bot’s discovery tools could help create “a relationship with your mall that maybe wasn’t there before.”

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.