It's interesting to think about what the shopping center of the future may look like.
Over the past decade, I've spent a good amount of blog, article, book and speaking real estate looking at the future of shopping and what that real estate may (or may not) look like. There's no denying that the digitization and e-commerce evolution has radically changed the retail landscape. Without sounding too bullish, it's going to continue. Not with a lateral growth curve but with exponential growth. As retail continues to tinker with models to encourage people to come down to their physical stores, it's hard not be overwhelmed by everything that brands like Amazon are doing (see here: When Real Time Becomes Really Real Time) and how things like showrooming and smartphones are playing a major part in retail's struggle to keep pace and relevance.
What retail should do.
We used to go shopping not just to buy the things that we needed, but because it was a social experience. Once e-commerce took hold, the need to go to the physical space became increasingly less relevant. Customers not only liked the ease of online shopping, it provided them with better pricing and endless aisles (in terms of selection). This (as one example) put the hurt on the traditional shopping mall model of having major retails anchor the malls. This evolution led to the bridging of entertainment and shopping. Retail stores were now being anchored by movie theaters, dining, comedy clubs, entertainment facilities and more. The shopping mall became a destination for shopping and entertainment. The foot traffic would increase because people were going to malls to catch a movie or grab a bite with the family.
The pressure continues to increase.
Suddenly, you can have a home theater that rivals those at the mall, and your home console video game systems are way more impressive than the arcade. Shopping mall developers aren't numb, they know what's going on and they're scrambling to make the retail experience more... experiential. Not every mall will be afforded a store like Apple or Forever 21, so they'll need to be doing a whole lot more in a world where Amazon is quickly racing to develop same day delivery. Yesterday, The Globe And Mail ran an article titled, Oakridge owners hoping to expand mall into small city that speaks to my utopian vision of what a shopping center could be: "Now Oakridge's owners are looking to do much more. They want to transform the 56-year-old mall into its own small city. Doing so means not just more housing, retail and office space, but also parks, bikeways, walking paths, a library, its own district energy system, and a re-orienting itself to the sudden influx of customers coming by transit with the Canada Line."
If shopping malls and great retail experiences have a future it will be in creating a better reason for people to come. There is no doubt that a great shopping mall is still a social experience and one of the primary places that a community comes together, so while environmentalists and protectionists want to either keep their communities a certain way, I've been saying for a long while that shopping malls and other places with dense retail experiences will need to give people better reasons to visit. Creating a space where there are homes, offices, libraries, parks and more is intriguing. Thinking of a shopping mall as a space that is more like a city could be one of the craziest ideas ever put forward or one of the best ways for retail to regain its footing in the community.
What do you think?