There’s been a flurry of conversation recently around the future of shopping malls. Or, more realistically, most of the commotion revolves around the lack of a future for shopping malls. While I understand the concerns—and there are valid ones—I strongly believe that if malls evolve, they will flourish.
While many suburban shopping centers are deserted and lonely, higher end malls are thriving. This is often because the higher end has continued to differentiate the experience, from making it a place where shoppers want to spend their day to enabling brands to offer instant gratification with luxury service and modern fulfillment. This onus to shape the future of malls is on landlords as much as it’s on brands and retailers. Everyone needs to keep pushing the envelope.
Technology will definitely play a big role in this evolution. This will be especially true when it comes to helping shoppers discover the right stores, and then have great experiences inside of them. Brick-and-mortarexperiences can still be profound and profitable, and modern technology is the backbone, both on the front end and back end. With a modern foundation in place, brand, retailers and mall owners can experiment about how to drive more loyalty and engagement with shoppers.
Malls and retailers should continue working closely together, but each needs to hold their own. Both parties have different skill sets and should be left to make their respective experiences the best they can be. Specifically, malls should be breaking down barriers for brands, so shoppers can have the best experience from the second they enter the mall to the second they leave. This means faster parking, clearer maps and better all around service. Within the stores, brands must continue evolving their service and product offering, staying away from quick trends, and build an experience that lasts. If all of this happens, shoppers will spend lots of money when they are on the premises and everyone wins.
As for the growing trend of malls buying brands, it's unclear if it will work and if malls, which are traditionally real estate companies, have the skill set to make the new arrangements work. Running a brand is an entirely different ball game than running a mall. But since real estate is an integral part of retail for both brands and retailers, there is a chance it could work. There's only one way to find out.
Malls absolutely have a future as long as they keep changing. The malls that don’t evolve will be nothing more than a relic of the past.
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