The ultimate guide to digitalizing your shopping center

The world is going digital. Most likely, you’ve wondered if your mall should, too.
But, deciding to digitally transform your shopping center opens up a whirlwind of questions.

At Emplate, we help shopping malls move online, which is why we know the process of digitalization and what challenges and questions malls might have in the process.

The ultimate guide to digitalizing your shopping center is full of useful insights, actionable strategy and critical considerations to take into account when you want to move your mall online.

Benefits of digitalizing shopping centers

There is no simple answer to the question: "How should I digitalize?".
It all depends - malls are different. Different objectives, circumstances, customer segments and tenant mixes demand different solutions, strategies and decisions.

However, despite their differences, all malls can benefit from digitalization in a plethora of ways.

Improved customer experiences and loyalty

Increased footfall, visit frequency and sales

Increased tenant engagement

Automated content collection and distribution

Increased marketing efficiency

Customer insights and data utilization

Customer touchpoints that cater to digital demand

Establishing owned media channels and data streams

Chapter 1:
The burning platform

First, we'll look into the motivation for change and the goals that it should bring, including the questions you should be asking yourself prior to researching the digital solutions landscape.

What motivates digitalization?

In today’s world where everything is changing, shopping malls are facing many different challenges, trying to keep up with anything from everything moving online to consumer demands and lack of tenant engagement. Consider which of the following applies to your organization and what made you consider digitalizing in the first place?

Consumer behavior and demands

Consumers are going digital and they want everything available on their phone. Customers expect convenience and relevance – all in a digital, mobile first, omnichannel integratable package - an example could be a mall app.

Growing e-commerce

With the number of purchases made by the consumers online growing by the day, shopping malls are left in a situation where they need to take action in order to secure themselves a place on the future market.

The decline of traditional marketing

Traditional marketing used to be shopping malls’ go to marketing platforms. Only problem is, we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Today, everything is moving online, which means traditional marketing is steadily losing its effect.

Advertisement immunity

Customers are tired of ads – traditional or online. As they are flooded by them every day, the ads are starting to lose their effect. This creates a difficulty if ads are the main way you reach out to your customers.

Tenant engagement

Engaging the tenants in a mall can be difficult - the amount of time, resources, phone calls and emails needed is staggering. They are busy and focused elsewhere. When you do manage, they often send the content in different formats, which can make it hard to create a unifying image.

Chapter 2: The big why's

This revolves less around the troubles that you could be facing, and more so about what you would be hoping to achieve when you decide to take the jump and move online.

What do you hope to achieve by digitalizing?

Don't hesitate to be abstract here. We'll get into concrete goals and KPI's soon.

Improve customer experience

Your customers.
Fundamentally, they’re what it’s all about, right? With the right digital platform, you could tailor excellent customer journeys for your customers and provide them with even better experiences before, during and after their visit.

Promote relevance and convenience

Everything is moving at a faster pace and available at the click of a button. Making things easier and more convenient for visitors, without stuffing them with content that isn’t relevant to them, is key. Less noisy spray-and-pray marketing, and more targeted, personalized communication is always the better alternative.

Cross-channel marketing

Adding a digital platform to social media and website presence opens up new possibilities in omnichannel marketing. The result should be a seamless online presence that offers customers real value when they are visiting your mall - digitally as well as physically.

Collect and utilize data

Visitors are essentially ghosts; it is hard to know exactly who they are and what they like. But it is as difficult as it is valuable. But by collecting digital data you'd get your hands on insight such as preferences, demography, and customer behavior to unlock a sea of opportunities and optimize your existing marketing efforts.

Save time and money

Marketing is expensive. An owned digital platform can optimize your marketing efforts with increased lifetime value of customers and more data to optimize existing marketing efforts.
But, time is also money (shocker, we know). And by choosing the right digital platform, you could end up saving a lot of time on manual processes and tasks such as content collection and distribution, customer surveys and more.

Automate content collection and distribution

Having enough marketing material to distribute at a continuous flow can be difficult. If you want to have a stream of marketing material, consider a solution that involves your tenants and makes it quick and easy for them to provide marketing material. You could even look for solutions that allows for automatic distribution.

General optimization

Digital platforms can support optimization in several areas, such as improved targeting in marketing, fine-tuning the shop mix in your mall through data enrichment, and much, much more.

Digital trends

Today, new digital trends that can entice and engage customers are popping up every day. By having an owned media, it is possible to tap into these trends and do so fast and effectively, on your own terms and while it is still relevant.

Chapter 3: Goals and KPI's

Every shopping mall has goals, and we’re sure that yours is no different.
In this section, we’ll have a look at what goals you're hoping to meet by moving online - and how you'll measure if you're reaching them.

What are my goals and KPI's?

Improved customer experiences

Improved customer experiences is perhaps the hardest to measure, but at the same time the most important. Positive customer experiences affects everything else from increased loyalty to footfall and sales, and one way to succeed is by choosing a digital solution that puts customers first.

Improved loyalty

Improved loyalty is a main point of interest, and for a reason. If you wish to strengthen customer loyalty, consider a digital platform that caters to this - like e.g. having a built in loyalty program.

Increased footfall

Sales are the bread and butter of the retail industry so naturally, it is a key point of focus for a shopping mall. Having news and offers as an essential part of your digital platform while making sure it is of relevance for the individual consumer is key.

Increased sales

It’s in the name: A shopping mall is nothing without shoppers. Increased footfall can help ensure financial goals are met and add buzz to your mall – If this is a key focus area for you, look for a solution that is designed to motivate customers to visit.

Chapter 4:

No two shopping mall organizations are alike. Single mall owners, mall operators, portfolio owners, mall administrators and the list goes on.

The type of organization that is looking to digitalize certainly impacts the choice of solution, and below we'll try to summarize the rule of thumb for a range of typical organizations.

What characterizes my organization?

Portfolio owner

Portfolio owners usually look to create synergies between different malls within the portfolio, still ensuring that they are branded somewhat individually. For this reason, we recommend looking for digital solutions that can be used across all malls while allowing for customization on different levels.

Single mall owner

Single mall owners usually have close  relationship with stores in their mall. That's why the right solution has to cater to the shops as well as the customers. Look for a solution that would make it easy for shops to share offers and news. By providing them with tools that are intuitive and easy to use could ensure both great sales results and customer contact for single mall owners and their tenants.

Mall manager or operator

Mall manager, marketing manager, or mall operator - anyone that oversees and executes on the day-to-day activities in the shopping mall will fit in this category. Usually, this group of stakeholders focus on smooth and efficient operations and should look for solutions that take workload from the shoulders of the operations team

Chapter 5: Features

Finally, the exciting part. This is what you've most likely already pondered the most, because features is usually the very thing that solves problems. So, what problems do you want to solve?

What features do I need?


A newsfeed is a great option if you want your customers to be up to date, so they have the best experience when visiting your mall, without hassle.

Event feed

If your mall likes to hosts events, shows or other activities for you customers, making it easily accessible and visible for customers can help increase foot fall and cement your mall as a place to have great experiences.


Having a loyalty program that is easy to use and creates real value for the visitors helps you in the long run as it boosts customer loyalty, lifetime value and foot fall.


Most malls dream of having ecommerce integrated in some way in a digital platform. Amazing as it may be, it is also difficult, costly and very complicated to establish and maintain, as it should work across all the different systems in different stores throughout the mall.

Inventory count

Like ecommerce, stock and inventory count in a digital platform could be beneficial to mall management and tenants alike. As with e-commerce, it's complicated, because you are dealing with multiple organizations all with varying levels of would be in charge of keeping inventory for all the shops and instances where a customer saw an item noted as available, but the stock count was wrong


Coupons is also high on shopping malls’ wish list. Similar to ecommerce in that it gives shops the possibility to place a number of items up as available and allowing customers the possibility of picking items directly on their phone but without the trouble of a mall wide stock count.


Having wayfinding ensures that customers can navigate your mall easy and stress free. That way, they can find what they want as well as explore your mall and all its’ options. If your mall is of some size, or your visitors can have trouble finding their way, this could be very useful.


In case your mall has time limited parking available, it is worth considering the added value for customers to have everything gathered on one digital platform for a convenient and stress free shopping experience - and it also opens up for the option of using free parking as a loyalty reward.


Having a digital platform that not only gathers data for you but also presents analytics and effect reports would mean that you would not only have the data available, but an easy way of approaching it and using the data concretely in decision-making that adds value for your mall

Recommended features

It's not possible to recommend a final set of features without knowing all of the ins and outs of your shopping centre.

That's why we'd recommend you to book a brief session with one of our representatives, to go over which set of features would be the perfect choise specifically for your shopping center.

... Or, if you're interested in browsing the features avaliable in The Mall Enagement Platform on your own, you can check out this 2 minute explainer video.

Chapter 6: Further criteria

Apart from features, there's a bunch of other criteria that can really make the difference for your digital platform. Perhaps you want to integrate with certain systems, have specific demands regarding data or want your tenants to be involved in the entire process. Here's what you should consider:

What criteria should my my digital mall meet?

Include tenants

We’ve mentioned tenants before and the importance of keeping them engaged and contributing to your mall’s success. If you're on the same page on the matter, you need to consider a concrete digital solution that has tenant engagement as a pivotal component of its’ setup.


If you have European customers, being GDPR-compliant is more than just a good idea - it is the law. Ensuring that your digital solution is GDPR-compliant is overall a great idea as it provides clear lines in terms of personal data.


With a platform solution, you’d get products for various stakeholders combined into one optimal solution for everyone. That could mean a tenant tool for posting and managing content, a mall app for your customers to experience it all in and a tool for management to monitor and manage everything.

Chapter 7: Data

Digital comes with the enormous benefit of - drumroll, please - data!

Data is key for measuring your success but also comes with an abundance of options to optimize. But before utilizing your data, you need to start collecting it!

How do I utilize data?

Data collection

Gathering data from your customers usage of your digital platform can be a great idea to improve marketing efforts. Question is what sort of data: choosing a platform that collects both personal data and data about digital behavior ensures that you have access to all the data you could need.

Owning the data

Let's get one thing straight. It's customer's data - not customer data.

Owning data sounds great. But, it is complicated, and in many cases even illegal. With a GDPR compliant solution, you omit the trouble. And with the right consent you wont miss out on all of the opportunities to improve customer experiences and optimize your current tasks.

Analytics and reports

Most people prefer to make decisions that's based on relevant data whenever it's possible. And if you're considerate in your choice of digital solution you can ensure that you'll have the right set of data points available at your fingertips.

Usually that means you should look for a solution with integrated analytics, so you'll be able to explore the data yourself whenever it's convenient. An alternative approach is to look for monthly or annual summarized reports, as these are usually efficient in tracking performance and effects over time.

To make the very most of your data look for suppliers that provide both analytics and summarized reports.

Chapter 8: Assistance and sparring

Consulting someone else for advice or a second opinion can be helpful. Often times, a new perspective on your challenges might be exactly what you need to choose the right supplier.

Who should I consult?


Perhaps you know of others who’ve just gone through a digitalization, or there’s someone in your network with knowledge on the topic of digitalization from other avenues - either way, reaching out to network can be a good idea for a second opinion.


If you’ve followed along on this guide from step 1, we’ve already gotten to know each other a bit, or at least you already know a bit about us and our mission of helping shopping malls move online. If you’d like to have a talk about your decision-making with us, reach out and we’ll be happy to help.

Digital agencies

Digital agencies that work with shopping malls have great insights into digitalization and knowledge of shopping mall online platforms, which could be of value to you - consider looking into what digital agencies have this kind of experience and reach out to one that fits you.

Competitors and pioneers

Looking for inspiration in your competitors can be a great idea because they might have something in place that you desperately want (or want to avoid!). Check out the malls you're usually competing with to see if they have already started their digital transition.

It's also a great idea to check out the first-movers and pioneers in the industry. This way you can evaluate the solutions they've chosen while defining what it is you want for your own mall. Here's a couple of malls that already have implemented different digital touchpoints and solutions:

  • WestEnd - a mall in Budapest with 400 stores with a platform-based mall app utilizing tenant engagement and loyalty.
  • Bruuns Galleri - a Danish shopping mall with another choice of mall app.
  • Unbail-Rodamco Westfield - the developer and operator of multiple shopping destinations has developed their own digital solution, available for each shopping center.
  • Sørlandsscentret went with yet another supplier of mall apps

Chapter 9: Digital solutions

Other than brainstorming features, our experience is that decision makers tend to jump straight to the evaluation of different digital solutions - and with good reason. The type of solution you end up choosing might be the one single factor with the greatest impact.

What type of solution is right for me?

Digital infrastructure

What's your ambitions for digital cohesion and integration across all of your activities? Consider if it's necessary to funnel data from all your services into one dashboard, if your data should be transferable between services or if you have any other specific needs for your digital infrastructure. The price might be big, but the rewards can be the same.

Luckily, integrations between different suppliers will typically do just fine, so you can usually build on top of what you already have.

In-house or outsourcing?

Do-it-yourself or delegate to others? Here's the usual pros and cons of both.

Keeping things in-house will ensure lots of control, on-site availability and allow you to pursue exactly what you want, as you are setting the agenda. On the other hand, developing in-house is much more costly and tasks are usually more complex than expected.

Choosing to go with a supplier might be the preferred option if you're looking for cost efficiency. Other benefits include a short time-to-market and that suppliers usually comes with less risk, because they are bound by contract and have typically already proven their product works. However, by outsourcing you have to give up some amount of control and risk issues with communication, collaboration or even quality. That's why you should always asses suppliers and your contract with them properly.

Custom development or Software As A Service (SaaS)?

Most of the same considerations from above apply here. What you should consider is if you want to build everything from scratch or would rather utilize an existing tool. In conclusion, it comes down to the question

With custom development you call the shots meaning that can build the exact features you need, you own the solution and have more control over the system. That enormous amount of freedom and possibility literally means that the sky is the limit - but it also comes with some costs in terms of price, risks and the burden of ongoing maintenance.

With a Software As A Service-provider you'll reap some very different benefits. It's cheaper because costs are leveraged over a large user base, you'll follow best-practices and will experience specialized resources and talents available at your fingertips. Most importantly, you'll benefit from continuous progress and development eliminating maintenance on your part. It is however on the cost of control and ownership, as it would be possible to loose your competitive edge if others follows in your footsteps.

If you're in doubt try to answer this question: What extra value are you can deliver by building a custom solution rather than picking one off the shelf?

Level of specialization?

Are you going for a niche supplier that is specializing in exactly what you need - but at the cost of versatility in other areas that are outside of their field? Or would you rather implement a less specialized solution that can cover your every need across multiple fields and activities - but usually at the cost of specialized expertise and (sometimes) even optimal functionality?

The level of specialization is a scale and it's important to find the level that fits your needs and goals. Here's some examples:

  • Best of breed (Specialized) -Shopping mall loyalty program mobile applications
  • Best of class (Specialized) Shopping mall platform solution servicing customers, tenants and mall management
  • Best of suite (Versatile) -Comprehensive software development spanning all marketing and lease management
  • All in one (Versatile) -  Complete development package containing all the tools and programs needed.

One-time or continuous development?

If you want low maintenance, a one time development is as low as it gets. You'll build and launch your solution and  leave it as is - for as long as it works.

However, the rapid pace of change in digital, design, trends and consumer behavior means that static solutions very quickly outdate. We'd always encourage continuous development and design improvements if you are planning to establish any digital touchpoints with your customers. But whether you place the responsibility of maintenance on yourself or an external supplier is entirely up to you.

Conclusion and next steps

Now, this is the end of the guide on shopping mall digitalization. We've been through the initial baby steps, the why's and the goals all the way to considerations on data and digital solutions. These key considerations should help you towards the path of digital success .

Now what?

Now, that you know what to look for, we advise you to start talking to the professionals and compare solutions or check our some of the inspirational case studies below.

We highly recommend you to book a brief chat with a member of our team so that we can find the ultimate digital solution to fit your needs.


Results in other shopping centers

Peter Terpak
Group Marketing & PR Director
HB Reavis

In hindsight, it was an even better decision to have chosen Emplate - The Mall Engagement Platform as our partner in this project than we initially imagined.