Vancouver’s Westfield Mall is debuting a Bitcoin ATM today. This is no money machine unobtrusively tucked away in a corner – it is located at the mall’s main entrance and underneath the food court, according to Donn Lasher, founder of Point of Coin, which is providing the ATM.
In terms of retail center real estate, it doesn’t get any better than that. But does this ATM signify that Bitcoins have become a mainstream consumer payment mechanism, on the same level as grabbing a quick $20 out of a standard ATM to buy lunch? Not quite. Rather, this Bitcoin ATM is more of a reflection of retail centers’ compulsion to embrace everything and anything tech-related to stay current with online shopping.
Not that Bitcoin ATMs are an exotic offering—but they are still rare. Even Overstock.com, which famously began accepting payments in Bitcoin last year only installed a Bitcoin ATM in its corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City this January.
Overstock.com, an online retailer to state the obvious, is clearly going all in with Bitcoin adoption. It is preparing to offer employees the option of being paid in Bitcoin—hence the presence of an ATM on site, according to CEO Patrick M. Byrne.
It also analyzed the company’s first year of sales paid for Bitcoin. Accounting for population, Utah was the state with the second highest adoption of Bitcoin, while New Hampshire ranked first.
Across the country in Washington, retail center owner Westfield also sees the need for a Bitcoin ATM but perhaps not because Washingtonians are clamoring to make purchases at the mall in the cryptocurrency.
Mall Owners Make Use of Tech
Rather mall owners like Westfield and REITs like Simon Property Group and General Growth Properties are sinking significant money in consumer tech to entice shoppers and make the shopping experience as fun as possible. To give a few examples: last December GGP introduced “reservation-based Santa visits” and an app for its Winter wonderland DreamPlace, a 2,000-square foot tech-intensive interactive cottage. It’s also rolled out interactive kiosks with iPads for shoppers to use and a customer service that answers questions within minutes by text.
Simon, for its part, introduced last September a Bluetooth Low Energy beacon system across its 240 or so shopping centers to help tenants connect with their customers in real-time on the spot.
Then there is Westfield and as it Bitcoin ATM illustrates, it too is not shying away from tech investment.
A recent article in the Washington Post describes several projects at local malls in the Washington, DC area.
Many of the couches and chairs at Westfield properties now come equipped with electrical outlets and USB ports to allow customers to charge cellphones, tablets and other devices. The mall operator is also working to build out its wifi offerings so that customers can connect to their network from the moment they pull in a Westfield parking lot. … By making it easy for customers to use their gadgets in the mall, Westfield hopes it will allow shoppers to blend the digital and physical shopping experiences, perhaps by using mobile coupons, comparing prices online or posting a dressing room selfie of a new outfit.
Meanwhile there are several pilot projects underway that look promising for wider adoption. This is what Kevin McKenzie, global chief digital officer at Westfield Group, told the Business of Fashion:
In Australia, we have a pilot going on that we call ‘Searchable Mall’, where we aggregate product from over 161 retailers that trade physically in our shopping centres, so when a consumer goes to our website, they can basically find a Westfield and then search not only what stores are in that shopping centre, but what products those stores sell, and then map a journey on a digital map to locate that product in the shopping centre.
Ditto for the remaining properties it still owns in the U.S.
We have a great pilot in San Fransisco where we’ve expanded the reach of the food environment by enabling the consumer to pick from all the food we offer and order ahead and have the food ready for them when they arrive, to really combine that physical experience with adding a digital layer.
Westfield, as well, is using Beacon technology, McKenzie told the publication.
We’ve done a series of pilots in San Francisco on beacons and we think the best way to use a beacon is to welcome the consumer with a personalised message, based on their preferences and their needs. It’s very early, I don’t think anyone’s perfected the best way to use beacons in a retail environment, but as a company we’re certainly testing and trying to understand what’s the best way to use that technology for our consumers when they enter our shopping centres.
And at least in Vancouver, they can be welcomed with a reminder that a Bitcoin ATM is nearby.
In terms of retail center real estate, it doesn’t get any better than that. But does this ATM signify that Bitcoins have become a mainstream consumer payment […]