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From crisis to retail revolution

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced West Edmonton Mall to temporarily close many of its doors, solutions from Rogers for Business helped them stay connected to their customers and stay on track for the future of an industry that was already in the midst of a transformation.

 “Staying connected and engaged with our guests was more important than ever,” says Ken Christensen, Creative Director at West Edmonton Mall (WEM), North America’s largest entertainment and retail destination. With more than 800 stores, the centre also has two hotels and several world-class attractions, including an indoor waterpark, an amusement park, a multi-level go-kart track, two mini-golf courses and a 28-lane bowling alley. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced regular operations to cease for several weeks, WEM’s team immediately prepared to re-open and resume normal operations as soon as they had the green light.


The pandemic affected both WEM guests and staff, and the primary objective in all decisions and implementations was ensuring everyone’s safety.

For their guests, WEM needed to effectively communicate that some retailers were still open for business, but in a modified fashion. “We had essential services in the mall that remained open, including grocery stores and medical facilities,” says Mannat Kahlon, Marketing and Promotions Manager. “Non-essential retailers were also allowed to do online and curbside order fulfillments, and we needed to inform our customer base on how to navigate these new procedures.”

For the WEM teams, a work-from-home policy was implemented, and that came with both operational and legal challenges. “Our biggest concern with a remote workforce was the security of our data and trying to mitigate as much shadow IT as possible,” says Kevin Grimes, Director of IT. With the teams now working remotely there was apprehension that they might turn to unsanctioned—and likely unsecure—software, which could be a liability. That’s why Kevin needed to ensure the solutions his team provided would fulfill WEM's productivity requirements. “We had to make sure we were still the go-to solution providers for WEM team members while they were working from their home offices,” he says.


WEM began its relationship with Rogers for Business as a customer of wireless plans. “That experience has forged a high level of trust and confidence in Rogers as a service provider, as a business partner and as a value-add to our operations,” says Kevin. It was that history that prompted WEM to adopt other Rogers for Business solutions, including internet, data centre and SIP trunking services.

“Having strong telecommunication networks really helped us communicate with the public, our tenants and our guests,” says Mannat, with Ken noting how e-blasts and social media content informed potential customers that the proper protocols were in place. It was also important to make sure that guests had accurate and accessible information during their visit. For example, with the touchscreen directories deactivated, QR codes were displayed on them for customers to scan. Doing so would bring up a virtual map and directory on their phones.

Regarding retailers, Mannat cites how a local clothing brand was able to generate strong sales in their physical WEM location by actively advertising and utilizing WEM’s curbside pickup program. “We were able to leverage that success story to educate our other tenants who were then eager to integrate the curbside pickup program into their customer service offerings,” she says. “Without the right communication networks, it would have been hard for us to implement that.”

In terms of data protection, WEM leverages services hosted in a Rogers for Business Uptime Institute-certified Tier III data centre where sensitive data is securely backed up and ready for recovery when needed. “We recently put one of our Exchange mailbox databases in the data centre for resiliency and disaster recovery should a situation arise where our own data centre becomes compromised,” says Kevin. This data is considered the lifeblood of the organization’s hotel business along with voice traffic. “The typical call volume for the company is 160,000 inbound and outbound calls,” remarks Kevin, “but the hotels can range up to 707,000 outbound calls.” That’s where SIP trunking from Rogers for Business comes in. “We’re entrusting a lot of voice traffic to traverse the Rogers network with a high level of confidence.” 


General Manager, Danielle Woo, confirms that WEM is back to regular operations and all stores and attractions are once again open. But the pandemic has made developers and retailers consider necessary changes for the industry. Agility and adaptability are key, and WEM is constantly evolving, adding to its technology portfolio. “The pandemic has created a big shift in buying behaviour and we need to adjust to that with the use of innovative technologies that are available to us,” says Mannat. 

In fact, the lockdown has only expedited a transformation that’s been well underway for some time, driven by the very technologies WEM has embraced. And Kevin emphasizes that WEM has been at the forefront of this transformation. “Retail centres need to step up their game regarding the customer experience,” he says. “We’ve been on that path for a few years, and we’re proactively implementing technologies to improve our retail and entertainment centre experiences. We want to ensure customers have the most amazing time when they come to visit us.”

"In this dynamic landscape, businesses need to be agile,” says Mannat. “Whether it’s a large corporation or an independent retailer, adaptation is crucial. Businesses that are engaging with their customer base and building those relationships are ahead of the curve.”

The Rogers for Business solutions have helped WEM become more agile and adaptive—and, as Kevin notes, the organization has taken notice. “Our employees have proven how efficient they can be working remotely when required,” he says, adding that shadow IT has been avoided because of the trust the workforce has in their IT department to deliver solutions that work. 

The future holds so much more, and Rogers for Business is working with WEM on new developments, including the construction of a direct fibre connection system and the deployment of a distributed antenna system (DAS), both of which will enable 5G wireless experiences. “The DAS implementation was done with incredible efficiency and collaboration with our infrastructure teams, including construction, electrical engineering and IT,” says Kevin. “Rogers knows business needs,” he adds. “We have full expectation that Rogers is going to work strongly with us to add more value than what we even envisioned.”