Future of Shopping Malls: Applying Old Rules to New Problems

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Shopping malls are an icon of the American life and the dream of people living outside the US. As the mall concept has been exported to the world in the past decades the US mall industry has been struggling for the past decade (this is not a new Pandemic issue) and many great minds are at work trying to figure out what to do to turn the tide.

In this article published in retaildive.com https://www.retaildive.com/news/the-evolution-of-the-shopping-mall-what-consumers-want/593187/ Barrie Scardina, Americas leader, Retail with Cushman & Wakefield, and Lee Peterson, executive vice president of thought leadership and marketing at WD Partners provide what the malls of future could look like. Items such as health and food rank high in their research as well as ideas like easy pick up, all while they mention trips to the mall and physical stores are down almost 50% and online commerce continues to pick up pace.

What is missing is the interaction between online and offline and how that will impact the mall concept.

We continue to hold the old assumptions that people will want to and can go to the malls in the volume and frequency they used to before all the new convenient methods such as live video shopping, local delivery, hyperlocal online commerce and the upcoming AR and VR technologies we have yet to see become mainstream, but we know they will.

The challenge with applying old rules to new problems is that we can end up putting more and more into an old car which will never be a new car, all while expecting the car to keep up with the new ones coming off the factory today. The digitalization of human life is a fundamental shift in how humans work, and it will only accelerate.

One part of this change is the expectation of convenience and efficiency from consumers, which is what ecommerce provides in large part. But ecommerce on the local level is still an unsolved issue with minimal access to available inventory and increasing fulfillment and shipping / delivery of products from outside the locale where the consumer resides.

Instead of trying to somehow bring people into the mall, perhaps malls need to think about how to bring the mall to the people, and not just digitally.

I personally believe in the power of the human experience and want to see malls thrive again but I’m afraid we’re not being innovative enough, and experimenting fast enough to keep up with the change. Above all we need a drastically different experimentation system for retail and malls approaching how online stores experiment. This will require questioning and challenging the most fundamental and established rules about the current mall concept.