A recent trip to the local shopping mall resulted in my friend and me standing in front of a sign that seems to encompass the current state of retail.
A similar statement was echoed in window after window, leaving us both with a few thoughts. The first was a bit of shock as we noticed how devoid of people the entire building appeared to be. The second was the realization that most everything on our shopping list could be found elsewhere—usually with better parking, easier access, and comparable prices, if not less. Last but not least, we thought: Where will all the teenagers migrate to for post-school socializing?
Could what we saw be the signal of the beginning of the end for malls in general? The answer is a complicated “yes, and no.”
There is evidence to show that while some consumers do preemptive research online, they still prefer to make the purchase in a physical store. The retail landscape is definitely changing, thanks in part to the success of e-commerce models such as Amazon’s new service that could soon directly deliver to your car’s trunk. However, business owners with a physical presence are developing creative ways to continue engaging shoppers.
One solution to physical consumer engagement that is gaining attention is the concept of an “entertainment center.” By enriching the retail experience with immersive activities, malls have an opportunity to create renewed interest in existing spaces. Think one-part food halls with local and artisanal vendors, add some live entertainment, gyms and even sporting events, and you have a unique space that is destination-worthy.
Rezoning areas inhabited by shopping malls is another innovative approach to maintaining a functional space that can address the growing needs of a community. Within urban settings, landowners and developers are exploring the potential for both residential housing and hotel opportunities. These mixed-use spaces could also help with overcrowded campuses by providing wide-open work and study spaces for students, in addition to potential makerspaces for entrepreneurs.
Beyond trying to find tenants for these emptying buildings, some management companies are thinking outside the box, and even the walls, to turn those vast parking areas into a place for seasonally rotating and traveling attractions that provide outdoor entertainment.
Even though the future of traditional shopping malls may be uncertain—and reliant on communities and entrepreneurs to work together—the growing consumer demand for immersive experiences makes us think that the signage we’ll be seeing can change.
Watch carefully. Ideas that combine social gatherings, food, and retail are already changing how we shop—and will ultimately shape what these spaces become.