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Image credit: VNTANA

Mall of America debuts helpful holographic elf for the holidays

Bet you don't have a virtual holiday helper, Amazon.

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How would you keep a shopping mall lively in an era when more and more people are buying their holiday gifts online? The Mall of America has a one-word answer: holograms. It's partnering with mixed reality firm VNTANA on what's billed as the "first-ever" holographic shopping concierge. Visit the mega-mall's Holiday Cottage throughout the season and you can speak to Ellie the elf (no, really, that's her name) for help tracking down top gifts. Ask about how to find an Xbox One for the kids, for instance, and Ellie will point you to the Microsoft Store.

The hologram isn't mind-blowing by itself (it's more like those Pepper's Ghost musician holograms than a true 3D image), but it's helped by a VNTANA platform that can tie a chatbot to a digital model. And no, you won't have to shout over the mall traffic -- there's a handheld microphone to take your voice requests.

It's not shocking that you'd find a hologram concierge in the Mall of America, which practically thrives on gimmicks to reel people in (see its theme park as proof). However, this might hint at what other malls will use to counter the shift toward online shopping. They might not have the world-at-your-fingertips access of the internet, but they can offer virtual assistants to speed up your trip... and possibly dazzle you in the process.

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