Shopping centres might present a united face to the public, but running them can be a more complicated experience than visitors think, with multiple parties including retailers, leasing managers, building managers, and owners frequently operating separately from each other.

Waterloo, Ont.-based Mappedin is slowly changing that, by building a computerized display platform that not only helps visitors navigate shopping centres using their smartphones and digital kiosks, but serves as a collaborative database management tool behind the scenes.

In fact, one of its biggest proponents is none other than Toronto-based Cadillac Fairview Corp., owners of more than four dozen malls across the country including Toronto’s Eaton Centre, Ottawa’s Rideau Centre, Vancouver’s Pacific Centre, and Winnipeg’s Polo Park.

“Our core insight, early on, was that to do search well you must first index the indoors – the new promotions, the new pop-up stores, when the washroom is under maintenance, where Santa Claus is when it’s Christmas, when the front doors open – all that stuff,” Mappedin CEO Hongwei Liu tells “And it changes every day.”

Surprisingly, Liu says, the majority of Canadian malls rarely prepare that sort of information more than a week in advance, with retailers often managing their own promotions separately from the mall manager, who works separately from the leasing manager. The first knows about a store’s deals, the second about special events, and the third about pop-up stores and whether tenants are closing – but they don’t speak with each other.

“We want all of those parties to work together,” Liu explains. “Customers see the map and search functions, but our core focus is really about providing Cadillac Fairview with tools at every level – headquarters, mall marketing management, retail, and leasing manager – to collaborate on a real-time dataset.”

Started on campus – literally

Like many startups, Mappedin began as a side project. It was 2011, and Liu was studying engineering at the University of Waterloo.

“Originally the plan was just to help people navigate the campus,” he says. “We had been working on it for one or two hours every weekend for about a year, and just figured it would be something cool to show our friends.”

Then one of the people Liu and his classmates showed the platform to offered to connect them with the general manager of a local mall, and it only took a 15-minute presentation for the team to demonstrate how they believed their platform would be an improvement over the mall’s existing directory.

In September 2011, the manager told Liu’s team she wanted a digital map by Christmas.

“It’s been an exponential ramp up ever since,” he says.

CF enters the picture

As for Cadillac Fairview, Liu first met with the company’s executive team in March 2015, when they were still working with a competitor that was providing what Liu acknowledges were similar services at two of its malls. But he knew that Mappedin’s real-time indexing features could set it apart.

“We showed up and said, ‘here’s what we know is hard,’ which is indexing in real-time, ‘and here’s how we solve it,’” he says.

As a trial, Cadillac Fairview implemented Mappedin’s platform at Vancouver, B.C.’s Pacific Centre last May, providing visitors with map and search functions, and retailers with a system in which they could enter promotions, job postings, and even CMS information.

One month later they received a deal for the entire portfolio – thanks to Mappedin’s plaform, visitors and retailers alike can now access the system from desktops, kiosks, and mobile devices at every Cadillac Fairview-branded mall.

A Mappedin-powered digital kiosk at Cadillac Fairview's Sherway Gardens in Etobicoke, Ont.
A Mappedin-powered digital kiosk at Cadillac Fairview’s Sherway Gardens in Etobicoke, Ont.

Adam Benson, Cadillac Fairview’s senior director of digital marketing, echoes Liu’s account, noting that the company evaluated a number of potential partners but believed Mappedin had the strongest platform.

“We began working with Mappedin because they demonstrated not only a commitment to a great user experience in the mapping process, but also an understanding of the business and management of the environment,” he tells in an email. “Their platform allowed us to easily distribute the map updates to our teams and provide greater levels of retailer participation in the process.”

Each Cadillac Fairview retailer now has their own account and set of permissions identifying the fields they can change, with Cadillac Fairview’s marketing managers having the opportunity to approve or reject them, Liu says.

“As you can imagine, it really makes it easier, because the alternative is marketing managers getting 100 e-mails a week,” he says.

Yet it’s not the easy access to a companywide CMS, or even its mapping features, that has been the platform’s greatest benefit to Cadillac Fairview, Benson says: it’s the platform’s search functions, which allow Cadillac Fairview to learn about customer habits and needs based on their queries, and even augment their results with keywords, retailers, and products that correspond to the centre they’re visiting.

“Over time, we can associate these triggers with corresponding times of the week or even day,” Benson says. “This has helped us to better serve our customers with content they want to see or destinations they want to find at the property during peak times.”

Those smart suggestions and push notifications are just two features of many that Mappedin has added to its platform based on customer feedback, Liu says.

“CF continues be one of our most innovative clients,” he says. “They pretty much do everything that we think of and then add two more ideas that we haven’t. Our roadmap is heavily driven by that type of collaboration with our partners, so it’s been great.”

And if Benson’s comments are anything to go by, the feeling is mutual.

“Mappedin has proven to be both nimble and forward thinking throughout our partnership,” he writes. “They’ve been able to review customer insights and expand their technological efforts accordingly to close in on any gaps and better help us provide a connected shopping experience for our customers.”

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