Living In A Shopping Mall

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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."

Beyond entertainment.

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?


  1. Great post Mitch. I believe we are heading to a world that will incorporate the gaming frenzy where people will receive points for purchasing items and activities. This will stimulate certain behaviors that should enrich the experience. The challenge, brands must better understand their consumer and up until now have been very lazy to properly profile their ideal customer by having a deeper relationship thus a deeper understanding to their needs. This will provide more transparency and stronger relationships which must equate to hitting the bulls eye in every interaction. Exciting times! Thanks Mitch.

  2. Agreed, the Vegas strip is a good example and model.
    I do however believe that what you are describing is much broader than retail shopping integration trends. I would call it the verticalization of cities (cities occupying much less space on the ground and being built up on the vertical from the beginning).
    There are a few forces pushing in that direction:
    – Energy efficiency, it is much more efficient to power, cool and network big buildings vs 1000 houses.
    – Crop-land needs, we can’t extend cities forever. (Even crop-lands will need to become more vertical if we want to feed everybody and become better at producing food in a world in full-on climate change.)
    – Business acceleration; innovation happens in already very vertical cities like NY where a lot of people can meet rapidly.
    – AIs coming to horizontal travels, should we promote uniformity in our transport methods? The car vs the elevator vs an hybrid of both.
    So retail should absolutely participate in this process, maybe even accelerate it.

  3. As you already mentioned in one of your previous post I also believe the new retail experience is that someone can walk into a store and shop like you always have, but then be able to have a complimentary ecommerce experience that goes along with. Like having tablettes at your disposal or showing your latest video campaign ad broadcasted on screen.

  4. Great thoughts here Mitch. I think that we need to include the need for people to live in a village; with shops, businesses, services, entertainment, etc. Anthropologically, we are inclined to want to be part of a tribe/community. The evolution of retail spaces to inclusive lifestyle models is actually a return to the village common and small town comforts. I also like that it accomodates all ages and stages of life.

  5. Retail entertainment and housing all together? We have those already – Visit any urban city.

  6. Bravo Carl!….I was thinking the same thing…we used to call these places..”Downtown”

  7. I do not drop many comments, but I looked at a few of the responses on this
    page Living In A Shopping Mall | Six Pixels of Separation – Marketing and Communications Insights – By Mitch Joel at Twist Image.
    I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind.
    Is it only me or does it seem like a few of the responses appear like
    they are left by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you are posting
    on additional social sites, I would like to keep up with everything new you have to post.
    Could you make a list of every one of your public
    sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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