The Future Of Malls: By Rishabh Mehra, Founder, Digital Mall of Asia

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Chandigarh

10 June 2021

DIVYA AZAD

This age-old question of staying relevant never gets old, as the malls 10 years ago were battling the same questions as they are now. In the year 2011, there was an article in Harvard Business Review magazine about what will happen in the next five years in technological advancements and how the future of retail will shape accordingly. Although at that time it was the stuff of dreams and science fiction, cut to the current times we can see that much of what was predicted is already applied as well. We do shopping at a click of a button, we spend more time in deliberation, in finding the perfect product for our expenses, scrolling frantically through various portals matching different products for their quality and price until we land on the perfect product, comes the delivery date and if we are not satisfied with our purchase we can not only return it we can submit its feedback on the portal as well. Whilst older business models are failing, e-commerce goes from strength to strength. Many new physical shops are also opening and finding strong success. Far from abandoned shopping malls and empty high streets, we’re seeing growth in an entirely new direction.

Covid-19 has forced malls to think beyond the experience which they can provide physically, the AR and VR experiences can be now brought to homes and do not have the same appeal it once used to have.

Shopping malls in India are a community space, somewhere to have a first date, get your ears pierced and have teenagers hang out without parents. In the coming years, it is precisely the “community” element of shopping malls that will take centre stage. A sense of community will be enhanced and capitalised upon to create interactive spaces for socialising and collaborating with brands. This shopping centre of the future will host relevant, personalised, brands and events, which focus on genuinely improving their client’s lives, amalgamating with technology.

The future of malls will be dependent on how quickly malls start adapting and putting some changes into effect.

Safety and convenience will be a major challenge, malls do not only have to think about the customers visiting but their employees as well.

Appointment based shopping – The concept of getting an appointment is not new for Indians, but including this as a shopping experience with personalized attention and calibration could quickly become a new fad. Shoppers can schedule one-on-one appointments in-store, select items for curbside pickup, or hop on a video chat with an expert Style Advisor. This allows customers to enjoy personal, engaging services much like they’d expect in a traditional mall setting that is safe and convenient.

Local Pickup – Allowing customers to pick up their orders from the centralised pickup centres at malls will make it convenient for an average buyer who doesn’t want to get inside the mall.

Contactless Payments – Already widely implemented and used, there is still scope of improvement in terms of penetration even in Urban market space as quoted by an employee at Paytm who wishes to remain undisclosed.

Redefined Outlet Stores – Personalised shopping is something we Indians are already aware of, before the shopping mall explosion our local businesses were already doing it for us, be it a food place or a clothing store with their sit-in tailors. The unorganised sector still does it, the big retail will have to start focusing on experience-driven shopping. Pop-up shops and micro-retailing have become increasingly popular. Aside from being less costly, they also encourage retailers to think outside the box. Many of these smaller-scale shops and boutique storefronts rely on experiential shopping. This approach helps them capture the look and feel of local mom-and-pop shops paired with technology that helps them drive sales. As a result, customers get to experience nostalgia for the old retail store concept and the ease of tech-equipped shopping.

Virtual Shopping Assistant – To give the customers that last push to add the product to the cart sometimes human interaction is needed. The same can be provided by virtual chat and video support, hence driving the sales.

Endless Aisle – The physical outlet will always have the barrier of space, and e-commerce platforms remove that barrier. The future of malls is micro retailing and experience-based shopping. In that case, in-store kiosks will empower retailers to display their complete online assortment in-store and allow customers to order products that are out of stock or not sold in-store and have them shipped to their homes. At DMA we are partially putting this to use as the physical outlet holds only part of the physical inventory, our vendors on DMA outlet can display their full range of products.

The malls can no longer be purely about shopping anymore, For daily essentials—grocery, bakery, pharmacy—consumers increasingly prefer one-stop-shop destinations. Customers find local neighbourhood centres or strip malls most convenient for meeting these daily, functional needs, and they expect to shop less in enclosed malls than they did before as published in research done by Deloitte. There is an increase in the needs for community building spaces in malls for people to meet and socialize, building concept destinations like the medi-mall, or health and wellness centre, which would include clinics, pharmacies, and spa services.

Food, music, festivals, theatres, movies, events will be the new driving forces for the mall. The next generation of food options in malls will bring exciting innovations, like food halls featuring rising chefs or multiple restaurants clustered in common areas. These will drive demand and create a new reason for customers to visit. Strong food and beverage options increase the amount of time a consumer spends in a store or mall, known as dwell time, which increases the value for other tenants.

The future of malls need –

Focus on safety and convenience: The new mall will need to carefully balance consumers’ desire for social interaction with their need for a safe, easy shopping experience. Retailers and owners need to address customers’ concerns by finding innovative ways to adjust how they organize their stores, interact with customers, collect payment, and deliver products.

Rethink the role of the store: Retailers need to reconsider the size and number of stores that will meet their customers’ needs, eliminating poorer-performing stores and focusing on the flagship, showroom, and pop-up experiences. Consumers will no longer come in just to browse; they will arrive already knowing what they want, and the associate’s role will be to facilitate the purchase through an exceptional customer experience.

Embrace technology: Retailers need to take a page from digital-first companies— it’s never been more important to build a seamless omnichannel brand presence. Customers are increasingly looking for a digitized experience both online and off, enabled by technological innovation at every turn. Malls and retailers need to use digital tools to maximize productivity and efficiency and create a dynamic, engaging experience

Make way for the food revolution: As mid-market fashion retailers move out of mall locations, their departure will make room for landlords to bring in an exciting new breed of restaurant offerings. This will feed the consumer’s desire for the social experience and will likely become the new anchor bringing visitors to the mall.

Become a new destination: Most of all, the mall must become the new meeting place for the community—a multi-purpose destination that offers extensive leisure activities as well as other functions, like office, residential, and cultural amenities. Shops should be mixed in with other complementary uses, giving visitors an interactive experience in which the entire environment comes into play. Owners may need to rethink their rental models to allow for different types of retail experiences, such as short-term pop-ups or exhibitions. There is a great opportunity here to be innovative. The mall of the future will not be our parents’ mall.

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