The Mall of the Future

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The media love to show pictures of vacant and deteriorating malls.  But the reality is that the mall isn’t dying. It’s just changing.

Let’s think back to 1992 when The Mall of America opened and became a destination — not just for shopping but for dining and playing. It’s now a major tourist attraction and is visited annually by 40 million people.

In many ways, that model may be the future of the shopping mall (but on a smaller scale).

Eatertainment and  sportsainment (including massive pickleball centers) are proliferating, and some anchor stores are seeking out different models (like micro-stores or stores-within-stores) or closing completely.

A comprehensive research study was done by Coresight earlier this year and revealed that the American mall is not dead.

In fact, traffic is up 12 percent at top-tier malls, and occupancy is at 95 percent post-pandemic.

But these complexes are becoming a smaller part of the retail footprint.

And those malls that are thriving are adopting a Mall of America model and creating fully immersive and unique experiences for the people who pass through them.

In warmer climates, outdoor shopping centers feature Instagram areas, splash pads for kids, and concerts and community activities.

With some retailers vacating the indoor mall, developers are filling spaces with a wide range of useful consumer and business services — from high-tech medical offices to co-working spaces and even tailoring shops.

And, of course, malls are becoming entertainment centers for the entire family, with movie theaters, play spaces, and rotating exhibits.

When older malls are torn down, they are sometimes replaced by multi-use complexes that house everything from apartments and hotels to entertainment centers, gyms, and shopping. Living “inside the mall” is becoming a trend. It has an environmental benefit too, in that products and services can be within walking distance.

The fully integrated mall means that management must plan and execute new marketing approaches to:

  • Build community, driving traffic to malls for reasons other than shopping
  • Utilize their real estate to serve as both shopping spaces and marketing billboards. We’ve already talked about the shrinking footprint for some retailers and the square footage that’s not being used for inventory can be put into action to encourage online shopping
  • Ensure that their search marketing is driving consumers to their location. The old-school mall directory is as dated as a paper map. Some mall operators have even integrated specific product searches within their listings. Keeping people inside the mall longer (and boosting average spend) is the ultimate goal.

That vacant space where a 1960s mall once stood may not be empty for long.

It’ll just be different.

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.