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Simon Malls' Chatbot Strategy Delivers Deep Personalization at Scale


Patrick Flanagan, Vice President, Digital Marketing and Strategy, Simon Property Group

Christian Brucculeri, CEO, Snaps

When Simon Property Group wanted to roll out chatbots for its 208 malls in the US, it sought a partner that would deploy the bots at once and deliver deeply personalized interactions. Enter Snaps, a conversation marketing platform that delivered the level of scale, precision and personalization that Simon Property required. Patrick Flanagan, vice president of digital marketing and strategy at Simon Property Group, and Christian Brucculeri, CEO of Snaps, spoke with eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about what it takes to build a bot for brick-and-mortar retail.

eMarketer: Is a chatbot platform a must-have in a retailer’s marketing technology arsenal?

Patrick Flanagan: As the power and reach of messaging apps grows, the need to offer shoppers great brand experiences through these platforms is also growing. For most brands this means that great platforms are needed to build, manage and measure one’s messaging efforts.

Think of email marketing. Very few brands send their own emails, but rather they utilize an email service provider like Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Responsys or MailChimp. Over-the-top messaging apps are on the same course.

eMarketer: How should retailers choose a bot platform for their needs?

Christian Brucculeri: They should opt for a bot platform that can centralize data and scale bot development. Deep personalization is also an important capability. Brands need bot platforms that can use everything that’s already known about a customer, as well as everything that the customer shares during an interaction, and deliver the right message to the right user at the right time. Someone that shops at Burberry and lives in Westchester, New York, should get different content than someone who loves Nike and shops at the Simon location in California.

“[Retailers] should opt for a bot platform that can centralize data and scale bot development.”

eMarketer: What specifically drove Simon Property to develop chatbots for its malls?

Flanagan: We identified an opportunity to enhance our customer service by tapping into the Facebook Messenger platform and providing its user base with a fast and convenient way to access relevant, useful information about their favorite Simon center.

Brucculeri: There is a growing need in the retail industry to make information about stores and products available digitally. It behooves retailers to make content available where consumers already are. The easiest way to make that happen is by using Facebook Messenger.

eMarketer: What are some of the capabilities of Simon Property Group’s bots?

Brucculeri: Each bot is a concierge in a Simon shopper’s pocket. For example, there’s on-demand information for times when a physical information booth isn’t available at the mall, or it’s hard to find. The bots can also be used to engage with consumers proactively. They allow for full engagement personalization, which means Simon Property Group can use store attributes, consumers’ location and behavioral data on where consumers have shopped in the past to recommend new stores or promotions. It’s a mix of customer care and proactive marketing.

eMarketer: Are the bots helping shoppers?

Flanagan: Yes, because the Simon Facebook Messenger bot provides an always-on, instantly available digital concierge experience. That means that wherever they are, shoppers can get their top questions answered through their mobile device.

“[The chatbots] allow for full engagement personalization. ... It’s a mix of customer care and proactive marketing.”

eMarketer: What were some of the challenges associated with building a bot for Simon?

Brucculeri: Today, 208 Simon malls each have an individual bot. They were deployed at scale through our platform, which was a challenge. We couldn’t create dummy bots for each new center, because then it would take a year to build each one. Instead, we sectionalized Simon’s database and deployed bots simultaneously across the 208 unique malls.

Another challenge was using location data. We wanted to be mindful about friction in the experience, so we enabled pin dropping in Facebook Messenger, which now allows consumers to establish their location in just one step.

eMarketer: As chatbot technology matures, how will it fit into the rest of the marketing tech stack?

Brucculeri: Chatbot platforms are the next evolution in digital CRM [customer relationship management] for brands. In the next 18 to 24 months, every brand is going to need to have some mobile messaging CRM tool and strategy in place to ensure that their bots are communicating with the rest of their marketing technology solutions and drawing from other customer touchpoints.

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