Michigan mall among 1st to add free phone charging station for shoppers

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KENTWOOD, MI — With more people using their phones as a tool in their holiday shopping to find deals and compare prices, Woodland Mall is helping its shoppers stay plugged in.

The mall, in the Grand Rapids suburb of Kentwood, is among the first shopping centers in the state, and possibly the U.S., to add a kiosk where shoppers can securely charge their phones or small devices for free.

“It’s an amenity we wanted to offer because so many people come here with mobile devices,” said Terry Leshuk, marketing manager for the mall, located at 3195 28th St. SE.

The ChargeItSpot station lets people leave their phone in a locker while they shop or eat.

Installed in the food court in November, the station can charge up to eight mobile devices simultaneously.

“The nice thing is that is secure,” said Leshuk, who gave a demonstration on how the kiosk works. “You can put your mobile device in and go shopping and eat while it charges.”

Data shows that most people are using the charging station for an hour at a time.

Each locker comes with three different cords to fit a variety of phones, although the locker will charge one device at a time. If two are connected to cords in the same locker, only the first one will charge.

Woodland’s Philadelphia-based parent company, PREIT, has added the kiosks to 10 of its 36 mall properties as a pilot project. The first one was installed in Woodland.

The mall is currently ChargeItSpot’s only kiosk in Michigan. The next closest locations are a handful of high-end retailers along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.

The Philadelphia tech startup has a total of 150 kiosks across 18 states and in Canada.

“This is really our first entry into malls, which is great because of instead of appealing to shoppers in a certain store, the free charging is available to anyone who goes to the mall,” said Sheri Tate, senior vice president of product strategy for ChargeItSpot.

While designed primarily for smart phones, the charging lockers can fit an iPad mini.

Each locker is equipped with three types of cords that cover 98 percent of the cell phones currently in production. They are a 30-pin charge cable for iPhone 3 and older, a lightning cable for iPhone 4 and newer, and a micro USB cable for Android and Windows devices.

All charge devices at a normal rate — which is roughly 1 percent per minute.

“You can put your mobile device in and go shopping and eat while it charges.” — Terry Leshuk
ChargeItSpot also has an app that alerts the user when his or her battery is low and of the nearest kiosk.

Using the kiosk requires putting in a 10-digit number and choosing an image, which then must be recalled when picking up the device.

People can use any 10-digit number but the company suggests using a phone number with area code because it is easier to remember.

“It’s very secure,” said Tate. “Our doors on the lock zone can stand a 1,000 pounds of force. We have never had a physical break in.”

If a person forgets the 10-digit number, there is 24/7 customer service.

“One of our service reps will actually dial into the computer via intercom and can talk to the customer,” Tate said.

The employee can remotely open the locker if the person calling matches the recorded image of the person who left the device.

“We have also thwarted some attempts of people to get a phone because photos do not match,” said Tate, adding that attempts are rare.

If a shopper forgets about his or her phone, after a few days ChargeItSpot’s customer support will release the phone to mall management, which will be asked to place the phone in a safe until the shopper returns to pick it up.

ChargeItSpot retains the credentials used to insert the abandoned phone, and can assist mall management in returning the phone to its correct owner, the company said.

So far the feedback on the new amenity has been positive, said Bil Ingraham, PREIT’s vice president of marketing.

Data show Woodland’s kiosk was used by 89 shoppers on Black Friday for an average of 44 minutes.

“We are trying to help people relax,” said Ingraham, noting that studies indicate a low cell phone battery is more stressful than being thirsty.

“I’m hoping we can roll it out at every mall.”

Shandra Martinez covers business for MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. Email her or follow her on Twitter @shandramartinez.

(This article by Shandra Martinez was originally published on Michigan Live)