Shopping centers reinvented: 2017 and beyond
From parklike atmospheres to in-store mobile offerings, columnist Allan Haims explains how shopping centers can shake up the brick-and-mortar experience to stay relevant.
With the recent swath of retail store closings — The Limited, American Apparel, some Macy’s and Sears locations, and others — it’s clear that the brick-and-mortar mall shopping model is in need of transformation.
Heavy reliance on traditional anchor department stores is on the way out, and specialty retailers must go beyond the status quo of merchandising and marketing to stay relevant in 2017 and beyond.
Forward-thinking shopping centers are responding by reinventing the brick-and-mortar shopping experience with innovations aimed at mobile-enabled, experience-driven shoppers — including incorporating non-traditional anchor stores, introducing new open-air mall formats with park-like atmospheres and offering shoppers a hyperlocal mobile retail experience that increases their connection to real-time mall benefits and personalized retailer offerings.
Staying true to roots while innovating
Malls have historically been a place to shop, gather socially and eat, and these basic values are still a major draw for today’s shoppers. However, the design and delivery of services are markedly different today, requiring a new approach to keep people engaged.
For one, the concept of anchor stores is evolving beyond the traditional department stores, as evidenced by the contracting footprints of Macy’s and Sears. Other chains, such as Nordstrom and Nieman Marcus, have significantly fewer stores and are generally in better malls, but they, too, are suffering from declining foot traffic and sales.
Shopping center developers will need to evolve faster than ever to remain relevant and top of mind to attract more diverse preferences — particularly among millennials.
And while online shopping has certainly seen a dramatic increase, the majority of Americans (64 percent) still prefer to buy from a physical store rather than online, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. To keep these shoppers on the property and interested, malls will need to continue offering brick-and-mortar perks like unique community events and trendy pop-up shops and tenants that will draw repeat, frequent in-person traffic — for example, Soul Cycle, 365 by Whole Foods.
Align with today’s consumer preferences
We’re seeing an uptick in malls offering open-air layouts and easy parking access to numerous stores –rather than lots that focus squarely on anchor store entries. These types of changes reflect the needs of shoppers who are often seeking out specific stores for particular needs and require convenient access.
And as some older malls are knocked down or revitalized, such as Owings Mills Mall in Baltimore County, Md., a 30-year-old mall that was demolished in December, developers are looking at opportunities to transform them into open-air concepts and offer compelling tenant mixes that include dining, entertainment and “live and work” communities — e.g., Caruso Properties’ Americana at Brand in Glendale, Calif.
Also, chances are high that consumers already have done research ahead of their shopping trip (likely on mobile) and appreciate helpful offerings that cut down unnecessary time spent walking from one end of the mall to the other. Parking apps are a popular innovation to meet this need, as well as in-mall mobile offerings that give shoppers information such as store directories, retailer offers by store or category, and details on mall events.
One-of-a-kind experience is key
Another reason we’re seeing increased interest in open-air and updated enclosed shopping center designs is that people are looking for a unique experience that also incorporates elements like the outdoors, an urban feel, nostalgia or family-friendly activities. Some shopping centers are taking a hybrid approach with indoor and outdoor elements — such as Westfield Topanga in Canoga Park, Calif. — to offer shoppers the best of both worlds.
Additionally, many new shopping centers offer a parklike atmosphere for consumers who want to enjoy an ice cream with their family, play a game of cornhole or go ice skating outside. For example, The Orchard in Westminster, Colo., offers a kid-centric playground and sprayground and hosts outdoor concerts and a farmer’s market throughout the summer.
And Platform in Culver City, Calif., gives shoppers unique access to trendy pop-up shops, one-of-a-kind merchants and an upcoming special membership program aimed at delivering different privileges and experiences at the center. Still other shopping center tenants are offering yoga classes, craft beer tastings and other popular activities that can only be fully experienced in person.
While the story of the “doom and gloom” of malls dying continues to be a part of retail industry dynamics, the reality is that many malls and retailers are successfully evolving their strategies, and new concepts in shopping centers are receiving strong engagement. Brick and mortar promises to be an important part of the retail ecosystem for a very long time.
Whether delivering mobile offers about in-store promotions, offering cooking classes or incorporating new types of anchor stores, shopping centers and the associated specialty retailers that are open to reinvention and personalization will surely be the ones that continue to thrive.