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Cherry Hill Mall test drives a new shopping experience

Josh Evans went to the Cherry Hill Mall last week to try on shirts at Abercrombie & Fitch, look at shoes at Nordstrom, and enjoy a cappuccino at Starbucks.

Fatima Bey (left) and Tony Wiggins from NE Philly are looking a Chevrolet Silverado.( AKIRA SUWA  /  Staff Photographer )
Fatima Bey (left) and Tony Wiggins from NE Philly are looking a Chevrolet Silverado.( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer )Read more

Josh Evans went to the Cherry Hill Mall last week to try on shirts at Abercrombie & Fitch, look at shoes at Nordstrom, and enjoy a cappuccino at Starbucks.

But he was mainly there to test-drive a 2014 Honda Civic Coupe.

"Oh, this is nicer than I thought it would be," Evans, 24, of Erial, N.J., said as he slipped into the leather seat of the shiny black Honda loaded with a sunroof, red wheel trim, and a rearview camera.

To see how it handled, he drove around the mall's 2.5-mile perimeter.

Already a shopper's heaven of wall-to-wall retail, the Cherry Hill Mall became the first in the country this month to offer what may be considered the ultimate convergence: car shopping at the mall.

The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), which owns the mall and others in the region, entered into a three-month partnership with GoMoto, a tech-heavy automotive start-up, to offer the first full-scale car showroom in a mall with on-site test-drives of a variety of automotive makes.

The program made its debut May 1, and the public reception has exceeded expectations. PREIT and GoMoto plan to extend it beyond July 31, when the three-month trial ends.

"If you can buy a Michael Kors or Coach handbag at the mall, or a phone at either the AT&T or Verizon store, why not be able to do the same with a car?" asked Bil Ingraham, vice president of partnership marketing for PREIT, based in Philadelphia. "There's nothing that served the consumer like this."

GoMoto promoted just Fords in a showroom at the King of Prussia Mall late last year, but test-drives weren't included.

Like other mall tenants, GoMoto paid PREIT to lease space inside and outside the Cherry Hill Mall to display vehicles from participating dealerships.

In turn, GoMoto charges the dealers a fee per vehicle displayed, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 a month, depending on placement. The rate includes a GoMoto concierge to interact with dealers and potential buyers.

Ben Catanese, a GoMoto cofounder, said dealers with vehicles parked inside the mall were charged a higher rate for the better exposure.

In the Grand Court last week, a Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Volkswagen Passat, Ford F-150, and Chevy Silverado - representing midsize sedans and full-size pickups, the two largest-selling segments among all makes - were parked near window displays for Michael Kors handbags and True Religion Brand Jeans.

The vehicles were parked at the mall's busiest "intersection," where the JC Penney wing meets the Macy's/Nordstrom wing next to two escalators.

"1.2 million. That's how many visit this mall per month," Catanese said. "This is the corner of Main and Main right here."

There were 30 more vehicles parked outside the mall for test-drives.

Catanese said five other makes would arrive this weekend - including Chrysler and Jeep - adding at least 10 more vehicles to the test-drive center.

"We're not here to sell cars," said Catanese, who also owns a Volkswagen dealership in Monroeville, N.J. "We're reducing the amount of time spent going from dealer to dealer to test-drive and research vehicles."

Other GoMoto cofounders are auto industry veterans Marc Rubino, Todd Marcelle, and Rob Florig, who leveraged their relationships with dealers to launch the company in 2012.

GoMoto offers "a modern, pressure-free car shopping experience" Catanese said. "People are intimidated with going to a dealer. They don't do the things that you normally do when looking to buy a car - like putting golf clubs in the trunk [to see if they fit], or putting their kids in the backseat.

"We let them do that here," he said. "I have a set of golf clubs they can test out."

Blue laws in New Jersey and Pennsylvania restrict car dealerships from being open on Sundays, leaving only Saturdays on the weekends - and the regular workweek prevents many from shopping for a vehicle on weekdays.

Like Jeremy Roman, 28, store manager at the Art of Shaving of New York, which sells accessories and razors at the mall. He's part of the captive audience for GoMoto.

The mall is open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Test-drives at the mall are done until dark, or 8 p.m., each night, all seven days.

Roman, of Collingswood, test drove the silver Fusion and white Passat last week and fell hard for the Fusion's lumbar support.

"It felt like a glove," he said. "It's really great being able to squeeze a complicated test-drive into a half-hour lunch break."

With a touch of the screen on a GoMoto electronic kiosk in the middle of the mall, shoppers can customize their desired vehicles - including model, color, options - and check which dealerships have something similar in stock.

Catanese called the marriage of cars and malls "the future of car shopping." He said GoMoto was trying to open in high-end malls in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Houston - and was taking the idea a step further.

"We envision pop-up displays like this one, but as a car store - a GoMoto store like all the other stores in the mall," Catanese said. "We think we are an alternative to and"

But not all car manufacturers are aboard. Last week, Kia pulled its cars from the mall and lot (the second time this year Kia has pulled its cars from a GoMoto center).

Catanese said he was told Kia had a dealership agreement that specifies the cars can be shown only on Kia lots. Melanie Dougherty, Kia's regional manager, did not return calls last week seeking comment.

GoMoto is a threat to some, said cofounder Rubino, who also owns Redline, an automotive merchandising company in Haddonfield.

"There was the same push-back to the Internet," he said. "Now, most of dealers' ad spend is online."

PREIT CEO Joseph F. Coradino said in an interview last month consumer habits were evolving and malls had to provide "experiential retailing." The company owns 35 malls, including the Gallery at Market East, Plymouth Meeting Mall, and Moorestown Mall.

"We have to change the experience of the shopping trip," he said.

When Evans arrived at the mall Wednesday with friend Chris Donnelly, 25, also of Erial, they were greeted by a GoMoto employee who made a copy of Evans' driver's license and insurance card and had him sign a waiver on an iPad before leading him outside.

GoMoto's Chris Wagner "qualified" Evans during the 15-minute test-drive by asking a series of questions, including whether he was looking to buy or lease.

Evans said his lease on a 2012 Nissan Sentra would expire in a few months and he was in the market to buy.

Wagner relayed the information to Burns Honda in Marlton, which supplied the Civic for the test-drive. Evans got a call from the dealer the next day, inviting him to come in. He plans to go later this week.

Having multiple brands under one roof "makes it really easier to shop for a car," Evans said. "It was nice not to have to make a decision on the spot."