US: Mall Hopes You'll Try Products in Person but Buy Them Online


A new shopping complex in Ohio will try to combine the convenience of
online stores with the hands-on experience of browsing at a mall.

Sometime near the end of 2006, the complex, called Epicenter, is
scheduled to open in Columbus at the Polaris Fashion Place. The nucleus
of Epicenter will consist of two parts - the Buypod, a hand-held
electronic device, and electronic kiosks located throughout the mall.

Under the concept, customers will enter the mall and register their
credit card information, which will then be put into their Buypods. As
customers browse merchandise, they can use their Buypod - which, as the
name suggests, looks something like an Apple iPod - to scan the labels of items they want to buy.

Although a small number of items will available to take home, most
orders will be sent directly to the warehouse, where they will be
filled and shipped. The electronic kiosks will print receipts and can
be used to cancel orders, if needed.

According to Anthony Lee, Epicenter's chief executive, Internet and
catalogue retailers can use Epicenter to establish a place where their
customers can feel, and in some cases try on, merchandise. The
Epicenter design also offers the low overhead and reduced need for
sales staff that online and catalogue retailers are accustomed to. Mr.
Lee would not reveal the names of the "small" number of retailers who
had signed up for Epicenter, but he said that "interest runs very high."

Sheldon Gordon, chairman of Gordon Group Holdings, which developed
the mall, said that he saw Epicenter as "a merger of Internet
capabilities with traditional retailing."

"I started to realize that department stores were going out of
business and merging, and a lot of space is becoming available," he
said when asked about the origins of the new concept.

Yet the trend toward time-efficient shopping layouts appears to be a
reflection of the needs of the customer as well as the result of vacant

"Today's consumer demands convenience with specificity, instant
gratification and minimal effort," said John D. Morris, a senior retail
analyst at Harris Nesbitt. "We're a time-starved, demand-driven

Mr. Gordon says that malls like Epicenter are the future of
retailing, while Mr. Morris suggests that Epicenter represents "another
chapter in the evolution of the mall as a form of entertainment."

Mr. Gordon said his company has plans to open 10 more Epicenters
across the United States, including locations in New Jersey and New
York, and to expand internationally.

AMP Section Name:Technology & Telecommunications
  • 189 Retail & Mega-Stores
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