The future of shopping malls

The pace-of-life is getting more fast-paced and the world of retail is constantly changing. We see lots of innovations taking place with technology playing a big part in this.

However, do we see a similar rate of change in shopping centres? Since the industry’s beginning how much has actually changed? When compared with the rest of industry and even retailers, not much at all. In short, it’s worrying. How can the industry claim to be stable if it is actually stagnating?

When we think about the mall of the future, it is very easy to get in the mindset of technology as a panacea. You can quickly imagine how the Centre will recognise you and your needs, plan your trip and organise the delivery of your purchases to your door-step. All very nice and sure, it’s important. However, we believe that sometimes this can be a focus at the expense of more serious underlying issues – sort of papering over the cracks. No point having a car with a fabulous sat nav, if you have trouble opening the doors. So a more fundamental question should be asked ‘what value do we really place on customer service and helping to deliver truly memorable experiences’?

‘We’re competing with the Amusement Parks for our customers,’ we recently heard from Value Retail, one of the world’s best Outlet Centre developers and operators. It’s true. Just take a look at these hotels and the amusement parks. These guys understand the importance of innovation, customer service and delivering great experiences. Whilst malls have been focused on products on shelves, the leisure market has seen the crowd and the money. People crave experiences because we live in a fast-pace world without many opportunities to stop and relax and feel the excitement. When was the last time you felt welcomed in a mall? When was the last time you left a shopping centre saying ‘Wow, I really had a great time!’ Has it ever ever happened at all?

So, before you race off and start looking at developing the latest technology fad it’s worth investing some effort to clearly understand what exactly your customers will find useful and exciting. No point building a product they don’t want. Is an ibeacon system linked to an app really what they need – or would they simply value being wished “good morning” with a nice smile and having somewhere comfortable to sit when they get a bit tired more. The question is, how can you deliver a service that will have them coming back to your SEC to spend more of their valuable leisure time, rather than going elsewhere? Simply asking them may not enlighten you either. People might be able to tell you what they think they want, but this might not be what they actually need. Like Henry Ford said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

So instead, study their behaviour. Look carefully and see what they struggle with. Where is there a problem that you can fix that will improve their experience. Remember, a shopping mall does not actually sell anything, but it does provide services to both its visitors and tenants. We’re not in the retail business at all. We’re actually in the hospitality business. Thus, we all need to focus on how to provide a 5-star service which will differentiate us from our competition – and we’re not just talking about other shopping centres – but the wider leisure industry; hotels, theme parks, airlines, airports, stadia and even your own retailers. All of these can teach you much about delivering service and experience. Take time to have a look – you may be surprised at what you see.