It is time to rethink shopping center design.
Posted July 13th, 2013 in Uncategorized and tagged , , by Rick Hill


There are more than 48,000 shopping centers in the United States, and each one of them is under challenge from internet shopping. As with moving water, it’s only natural that the distribution of goods will find the most efficient channel to the consumer, and there’s no doubt about it: internet shopping has found that channel. Amazon, with same-day delivery from vast warehouses, is just one example.


Yet, the boom in internet shopping has done far more than change distribution methods—it has shaped the very nature of consumers and their expectations. They are now less impulsive, more disciplined, and far more purposeful in their approach to shopping. Modern, enclosed malls are struggling to respond to this new type of consumer and to compete with the distribution methods of internet shopping. The Macy’s, Walmart, and Target-anchored shopping centers may become relics of the past unless they respond  to the changing expectations of consumers. To successfully compete with internet shopping, malls must provide exactly what consumers want, when they want it, where they want it and at the lowest possible price – and more.


Some malls may eventually succeed by reconnecting the current disconnect between land- constrained fixed-distribution points for real-world goods and a more permeable, vastly expansive and adaptable cyber marketplace with fluid and highly mobile delivery systems. But, how will this re-connection be achieved?


Popular depictions of the future smart mall are of a technologically advanced emporium, which incorporates smart phones and other mobile shopping devices with intelligent storefronts and advanced merchandise displays. To imagine such a mall is to imagine a giant digital marketplace with customized advertising, holograms, and constant information feeds to the shopper. In this vision, the mall has become an integrated marketing platform for instant gratification and retail showcases with vastly larger internet marketplace, and next-day delivery. It is here that devices and data merge to do everything from guiding a shopper to a parking space to suggesting compatible products from different stores.


Think again and think differently. Yes, of course, technology will be fully integrated into the shopping mall of the future, but it will be seamlessly integrated into the background, allowing for a far different experience from this popular depiction of what many consider the smart mall of the future.


They must become majestic marketplaces infused with design, art, social capital, fresh spaces, and new experiences—not only innovations in technology. To think otherwise would be a huge mistake.


If shopping malls are to remain viable marketplaces, we in the shopping-center industry need to completely re-imagine the mall’s most basic functions. This will require thoughtful land plans, better and innovative design, more-interesting spaces, new and exciting activity centers, and breakthrough innovations that will enhance the shopping experience in physical locations.


Successful malls of the future will primarily be about localism and individual customization, not about replicating standardized national-chain formats with generic products. Malls must become highly adaptable, able to speak directly to the sensibilities of the market of the moment. They must be crafted to accommodate a constantly changing localized marketplace with a mix of shops and goods cleverly curated to offer irresistible opportunities to feel, test, touch, try-on, smell, hear, and taste—experiences we cannot have over the internet. This is more about a market of the senses than a market of data transmission.


In my next blog, I will share with you my vision for how we can achieve such a marketplace—my vision for the future of shopping-centre design.


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