Officially shopping malls are defined as “one or more buildings forming a complex of shops representing merchandisers, with interconnected walkways enabling visitors to walk from unit to unit.”1 Unofficially, they are the heart and soul of communities, the foundation of retail economies, and a social sanctuary for teenagers everywhere. In recent decades, the shopping mall concept, which has its origins in the U.S. and became a full-blown modern retail trend in the post-WWII years, has increased across the globe. The five largest malls in the world now reside in Asia. India’s Ambience Mall in Gurgaon stands at one of the tops.
Despite its ubiquity, the mall as it’s been conceived for the last half-century is at a critical inflexion point. A storm of global trends is coming together at the same time to cause malls to change the role they play in people’s lives. No longer are they primarily about shopping. Now, when consumers visit malls, they are looking for experiences that go well beyond traditional shopping. The trends helping to create this change include changing demographics, such as an ageing population and increased urbanization, which means more people living in smaller spaces and a greater need for public spaces to socialize and congregate. In this environment, malls offer a welcome watering hole, especially in cities where other public spaces are not safe.
Sustainability concerns are causing some consumers to prefer mixed-use developments where they can live, shop, and work all within walking distance – instead of getting into a car and driving to a crowded suburban mall. The growing middle classes in Latin America and Asia maintain a strong association between consumption and pleasure, driving the need for more engaging shopping experiences. And finally, the e-commerce revolution and the rise of digital technologies are fundamentally reshaping consumer expectations and shifting the function of stores toward useful and entertaining customer experiences.
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