The COVID-19 pandemic has shocked the retail industry. Shopping malls, once popular meeting hubs that were already feeling the pressure from e-commerce and decreased foot traffic, were suddenly devoid of customers as the world locked itself down in an effort to contain the virus’s spread. As we navigate the new normal, shopping malls need to create reasons for consumers to return to in-store shopping.
According to a 2021 study by Deloitte – The Future of the Mall, there are five critical changes that mall landlords and retailers must embrace if they want to keep customers coming back:
Focus on safety and convenience
Today’s shoppers are demanding a safe, frictionless environment, but they want it their way. The key to getting them back into malls will be for owners and retailers to work together to invest in customer safety, and to provide tools and applications that make for a smoother, more convenient shopping experience.
These include services such as self check-out, click-and-collect, curbside/store-door pickup, buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), and free or hassle-free returns through services like a centralised returns area in the mall.
Rethink the role of the store
Even prior to the pandemic, the customer journey has been evolving. It’s no longer simply about visiting a store. It now involves an overall brand experience through the omnichannel platform: having done their research online, customers arrive at the store already knowing exactly what they want (in many cases, knowing more about a product’s features and benefits than the sales associate). The result: the path to purchase has been altered permanently, emphasising the associate’s role in facilitating an exceptional customer experience, and focusing on showroom, pop up locations and other innovation formats.
Make way for the food revolution
Food will become the ‘new fashion’ drawing visitors into the mall as less relevant fashion retailers move out.
The next generation of food options in malls will bring us exciting innovations, like food halls featuring rising chefs or multiple restaurants clustered in common areas. It’s predicted that these will drive demand and create a new reason for customers to visit. Strong food and beverage options also increase the amount of time a consumer spends in a store or mall, known as dwell time, which increases the value for other tenants.
By capitalising on digital tools, shopping malls can maximize productivity and efficiency and create experiences that are a dynamic and engaging.
Digital-first retailers understand the importance of using technology to enhance the brand experience, and they know how to do it. Their already advanced e-commerce platforms have allowed them to survive the pandemic and will give them an advantage in the future as they explore or expand their bricks-and-mortar strategy.
The retailers that will thrive are those that can successfully deliver a comprehensive omnichannel approach. Some brands that are already doing this are looking at product testing and simulation using AR and VR technologies, online concierge services, digitized browsing, and virtual fitting rooms and pop-up shops that showcase new products both in person and online.
Become a new destination
The mall can no longer be purely about shopping. Single-purpose malls, where consumers go only to shop from a collection of retailers, will struggle to stay relevant.
Landlords and retailers need to collaborate creatively to drive foot traffic and boost dwell times to increase their revenue productivity.
Progressive malls are building strategies to create mixed-use spaces that bring together residential, office, entertainment, leisure, health and wellness, and other novel experiences. From community living-room spaces in malls for people to meet and socialise, to building concept destinations like health and wellness centres that would include clinics, pharmacies, and spa services, those futuristic malls that can adapt to their visitors’ changing needs will be the first to profit.