INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - With consumers pressed for time these days, the nation's largest owner of malls is starting a new business aimed at giving shoppers more reasons to drop in.
Simon DeBartolo Group said Friday a new subsidiary, Simon Brand Ventures, struck a deal that lets Visa International promote its bank cards at 131 Simon shopping centers. The mall operator also is selling marketing space to motel and real estate operator HFS Inc.
Terms of the Visa deal were not disclosed.
"It's a great forum for quality brands to reach out and do some face-to-face marketing to consumers. The mall represents a new medium to reach out and accomplish that," said Karen Demarest Corsaro, co-president of the new subsidiary.
Under the Simon Brand Ventures-HFS deal, the motel and real estate firm will offer vacations and homes through its Ramada, Century 21 and Resort Condominiums International brands, using space in Simon malls.
Simon has a customer-loyalty program called Mallperks in which members accumulate rebate credits at tenant stores in addition to receiving special discounts and other deals. In the future, Mallperks will offer its members items such as a discounted weeklong stay at a Resort Condominiums property.
If Simon Brand Ventures can add only a penny or two per customer visit to a Simon mall, it's still a major new source of revenue at 1.5 billion visits per year, said Andrew Halliday, the other co-president of Simon Brand Ventures.
Shopping centers and retailers have to find new ways to draw shoppers who are strapped for time and for cash, retail analysts said.
The enclosed regional shopping malls are particularly at risk, said Kurt Barnard, president of New Jersey-based Barnard's Retail Marketing Report.
"Going to and shopping in malls is rapidly becoming an awesome excursion," he said.
Consumers in many cases must fight traffic to drive to a mall, park a great distance away from an entrance, then walk past scores of stores that look alike to find the one they want, he said.
Industry growth isn't even keeping pace with inflation. Average industrywide sales per square foot at malls rose just 2.9 percent last year and 0.5 percent in 1995, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Inflation was 3.3 percent last year.
Sales at Simon malls were $298 per square foot in 1996, up 7.2 percent from $278 per square foot in 1995, Simon said. The Indianapolis-based company owns 117 enclosed malls and 70 other shopping centers around the country.
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