Analysis | The Future of the Shopping Mall for the Connected Generation

As with many cultural shifts, there are always those that buy in wholeheartedly to innovation – and those that resist it. The future of the shopping mall will be a harmonious paradox between effortless convenience, automated systems and digital touch points against analogue, intimate and convivial social gatherings. This new era of shopping will not be defined by consumers resisting or accepting change – but about its process of engaging the connected generation.

Consumers do not work in silos. They will want every planned convenience paired with spontaneous conviviality – evoking a future of shopping that simultaneously offers many parallels rather than opposing ideas. Retailers will not be at a junction of different choices limited to choosing one route, but rather learn to weave together several roads, creating a truly omni-channel experience.

TimeTrade’s 2015 report on the state of retail stated that 65% of shoppers prefer the physical store over online and mobile and 85% want to touch and feel products. Yet to hit the sweet spot retailers must blend a number of different formats together, picking and choosing the best customer experiences from a number of channels and creating spaces and environments where they can seamlessly work together. Digital is key but only if done right. Customers have learnt the rules of shopping online, so why not give them those same processes in store?

A great place to start is to examine the online-native brands who have made the transition to bricks-and-mortar – even those who famously stated that they would never do anything of the sort, such as Andy Dunn, CEO of menswear brand Bonobos. Bonobos have championed its ‘Guideshops’, stores whose only purpose is to help you try, touch, and feel the clothes guided by a personal stylist. Or subscription services such as Birchbox, continuing its platform of beauty discovery in store and alternatively, Harry’s, who instead opened its Corner Shop, a barber shop that uses Harry’s equipment. They marry the best aspects of online retail with the physical needs of offline to create truly holistic shopping experiences that compliment their brands. Imagine if these processes were taken to a much larger scale – that a shopping centre could provide subscription type services across its entire retail offer?

Westfield’s Collect + lounge taps into the idea of the shopping centre as a single entity. Customers can order items from several different retailers to the lounge and pick them up, try them and even return them within the lounge. Thinking about the shopping mall as an entire entity rather than a host of different retailers and brands is the key to bringing discovery, convenience and ultimately – an enjoyable shopping experience to the consumer.

The idea of the anti-mall, or ‘unstore’ is one that the next generation of consumers will begin to view shopping centres as a hub of sociality, removing purchasing pressure and instead creating revenue that filters through different channels. Stores may instead become animated marketing ventures, showcasing their brand essence and therefore leaving transactional requirements to the systems that do it best – online and mobile. Let’s do away with point of sales and create more points of engagement.

These hubs of sociality are largely driven by new consumer typologies. We are seeing the emergence of a flat age society – where age becomes irrelevant and where shopping centres instead of targeting consumers by age group, will target them by interests. Seniors are getting involved in the same experiences as their grandchildren and children the same as their parents, creating a kidult culture amongst several age groups. But, the differences between these experiences are the content – driven by the promise of new sensations where consumers are collected together through similar interests. The shopping experience should be a social one, that customers want to spend time doing and most importantly, built on ideas that they want to share.

Physical stores provide the ideal testing ground for new ideas because of the immediate reactions from consumers. Transient retail modes are good for these because they provide refreshment and encourage repeat visits through the promise of a new offering, event and experience each time. STORY, in NYC takes this model of refreshment and change and applies it to their entire retail offering. From concept to product, brands to the store interior, it changes itself entirely every 4-8 weeks based on a chosen theme. STORY takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store, – it is this rethinking and repurposing of formats that can change physical retail and propel it into the future.

Space is also another element that can be rethought and repurposed. A great example of utilising underused space to attract and delight shoppers was the pre-opening of Kate Spade’s store in New Jersey. They used the barricades as more than just a projection for the opening of the new store by having iPads integrated into the barricades for shopping and style quizzes, whilst the square cut windows took a playful twist on the term ‘window shopping’. Other retailers have also used this approach such as eBay’s 24 hour shoppable windows or Cancer Research’s clever use of contactless technology on the outside of the storefront, allowing customers to tap and donate without even entering the store.

The future of the shopping centre will be an exciting one. As long as shopping centres and retailers remember to consider the entire customer journey in all channels, that digital convenience serves to compliment the convivial, and that refreshment equals rhythm, pace and sociality, then we will see them become thriving communities and ultimately, learn to truly engage the connected generation.

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