The evolution of the mall: what consumers want

This opinion piece was written by Barrie Scardina, U.S. Leader, Retail with Cushman & Wakefield, and Lee Peterson, Executive Vice President of Thought Leadership and Marketing at WD Partners. Opinions are those of the authors.

On Cyber ​​Monday, the retail industry took another milestone – the biggest e-commerce day on record with $ 10.8 billion in sales. According to a report from Creditntell, this represents an increase of over 200% from Cyber ​​Monday sales in 2016. Sensormatic Solutions reported that physical store traffic was down 49% for the holiday weekend of four. days. The Black Friday weekend confirmed that traditional brick and mortar retailers face an uphill battle as the New Year dawns.

Growing online sales and declining in-store traffic are creating new challenges for traditional shopping centers. Department stores, which were traditionally the mainstays of these properties, are closing and consumers are looking for new points of engagement and genuine brands directly aimed at consumers. When you combine this historic change with the impact of the pandemic over the past year, it’s understandable that concerns grow among shopping mall owners, investors, and developers:

  • What will bring consumers back to physical stores?
  • What types of businesses will emerge from this pandemic?
  • What do communities expect from their shopping centers?

Historically, traditional malls have provided a place for a community to come together to shop, eat, and be entertained. Over the past 30 years, savvy developers have shifted their offerings from traditional shopping, focused on department and specialty stores, to new shopping experiences that include digital-native brands, exciting food concepts and forms of shopping. larger and more sophisticated entertainment. -from art cinemas to water parks and merry-go-rounds. These malls have played an important role in the community by providing a place to meet and share experiences, as well as generating tax revenue that supports schools, health services, and police and fire departments. .

Today, traffic is slowing, stores are darkening, and consumers expect developers to reinvent a new experience to bring footsteps back to the mall. Now is the time for developers, owners and investors to revitalize their assets to maximize their income.

What do consumers want in their shopping center?

To understand this and help developers, owners and investors move forward, Cushman & Wakefield and WD Partners have joined forces – WD Partners has compiled consumer insights to understand what they want in the center. commercial today. When asked which concepts would increase mall visits, consumers demonstrated that they were looking for useful and desirable concepts. The survey highlighted the following key trends:

Food was the winner two years in a row. Consumers didn’t just mention restaurants, they also mentioned their interest in grocery stores, farmers’ markets, food courts and fast food services. Food brings us together. It is an important point of engagement, provides memorable moments and can be the cornerstone of a community. The food also generates traffic and prolongs the mall’s pedestrian traffic beyond conventional store opening hours. Over 60% of those surveyed focused on this equipment.

health and wellbeing came in for a good second year in a row with 43% of respondents leaning towards wellness and 36% towards fitness. Consumers continue to value staying healthy and physically fit. These concepts include medical clinics and walk-in gyms, to brands that sell fitness equipment and clothing.

New concepts and experiences were third with 35% of consumers looking for new concepts, experiential shops and co-working spaces. These include pop-up shops, ax-throwing bars, and gaming arenas. Some of these concepts are new additions to the survey illustrating the evolution of retail with a focus on consumer engagement.

Safety and convenience factors like online shopping, in-store pickup, and curbside pickup have also emerged as a prominent trend. Forty-four percent of those surveyed wanted speed, convenience, contactless technology, and security. Consumers also indicated that “green spaces” would be an important part of the engagement. These trends are not surprising given the impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviors and experiences.

When analyzing data by age, WD Partners looked at the differences between two key groups: digital natives (aged 18 to 29) and digital immigrants (aged 45 to 60) and found that food continued to be the biggest draw and that the biggest spread was in the areas of fitness (19% split) and games (18% split). All age groups focused on safety and well-being, as well as co-working spaces. Digital immigrants, who grew up in malls, are more attached to the structure and purpose of malls. Digital natives are looking for a more creative experience overall. They are also very receptive to new ideas and concepts, especially when they are based on two premises: food and fitness. Much has been written recently about Millennials and Gen Z when it comes to behavior, but increasing their footfall to commercial properties seems straightforward enough.

The evolution of shopping centers has been at the center of concerns for decades. Back in the 1980s, we couldn’t imagine they would ever contain brands ranging from high-end dining and fitness to experiential concepts that sell fancy tech like phones and laptops. We could never have considered exchanging our Levi’s for sports recreation. We also wouldn’t believe that we could work out in our gym and then do our groceries in one place. The next evolution will bring new and exciting experiences that will differentiate the new decade from the previous one. Retail is an evolving ecosystem where consumers explore and experience brands, and shopping malls are one of the most important hosts of this experience.


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Peggy P. Gilmore