Dire headlines about the state of the shopping mall conjure images of department store closeout signs, empty food courts and lonely mall Santas. But as the holiday shopping season approaches, that dreary picture is far off from reality for the innovative retail centers that are fostering modern-day community spaces. By creating experiential and social environments where people convene more than simply “buy stuff,” commercial retailers and brands are establishing what have come to be known as society’s third places — the next stop after home and work.
It’s this lifestyle experience-driven reimagining that is reinvigorating yesterday’s shopping mall, and in many cases, mobile technology and data is behind the evolution.
I know what you’re thinking — isn’t mobile commerce one of the reasons why brick-and-mortar retail and the mall are dying? Well, it’s not that simple. In fact, not only does mobile technology present compelling opportunities for smart retailers, the adoption of mobile is precisely why they have far more information to learn about who shoppers are and how to attract them than ever before.
Mobile location data can link retailers to information revealing demographics and psychographics of mall-area consumers, information about their interests, even likelihood to buy certain products, eat at certain types of restaurants or engage in specific activities. By understanding the nuances of local and regional area consumers, shopping centers can begin to build services and experiences that appeal to them, reflecting the ways they already shop and socialize today.
Europe Leads The Way
Much of this new wave of shopping mall thinking is emerging in Europe — perhaps no surprise considering the region’s long legacy of neighborhood markets as communal spaces. In April, Cushman and Wakefield reported on shopping center trends, declaring that in recent years “shopping centres have evolved from pure retail properties into multifunctional centres, with increased dining, leisure and entertainment offerings and public services.” The global real estate services firm pointed to the Iso Kristiina and Iso Omena shopping malls in Finland, which feature a theater, health care facilities and a public library. Meanwhile, shopping centers in Russia “have introduced new social and educational experiences through thematic lectures, discussion sessions and fashions shows in an attempt to attract more footfall,” noted the company.
Here’s where data on local consumers comes in. Mobile location data showing where consumers in a particular area near a mall shop or dine, where they take in live entertainment or where they work out can be combined with mobile app data indicating interests, then layered with data reflecting household income or whether they have children. This paints a picture for retailers and shopping centers seeking clues for what types of experiences and services might attract today’s lifestyle consumer to a new communal third place.
Are there a lot of health-conscious people in the area? Shopping malls might add a fitness facility or spa. Entrepreneurs or small business owners would be interested in software tutorial workshops or events. Families with young children would be attracted to play areas and kid-friendly attractions, and millennials or empty-nesters might be drawn to a date-night event featuring wine tasting and an art installation or cooking classes paired with a home goods retailer.
Mobile Commerce As An Opportunity
Mobile commerce will grow from around 35% of total e-Commerce sales this year to more than half by 2021, according to eMarketer. Rather than spelling doom for physical stores, the increasing tendency towards mobile shopping creates opportunities for smart retailers willing to develop new ways for consumers to engage with their wares through experiences. The fact is consumers still visit physical stores to research products or “showroom” even if they ultimately purchase online. Three-quarters of smartphone owners 18-34, 68% of those aged 35-54 and more than a third aged 55-plus go to stores to showroom, according to the 2017 Holiday Physical and Digital Retail Trends report from Euclid Analytics. Why not make the experiences great while they’re there?
Malls or individual retailers can build branded mobile apps that facilitate mobile browsing while customers relax at a mall coffeeshop or wait for a spa appointment, and those products can be viewed later in-person. According to Cushman and Wakefield, more and more online retailers in Europe are testing ways physical stores can be integrated into omnichannel strategies. For instance, European shopping center operator ECE is developing a “digital mall” tool that lets people search in-store product availability and reserve items for pick-up.
Cutting edge retailers are getting experiential here in the U.S., too. With a coffeeshop and newsstand set up right in its flagship New York store, high end wristwatch and leather goods retailer Shinola is cultivating a communal experience that turns an ordinary store into a “third place.” This experience-focused approach is what will set brick-and-mortar stores and shopping centers apart as e-commerce eats away at their once-safe bottom lines.
Remember, while price is still the main reason people choose to purchase from one store over another, the younger consumers are, the more likely they are to consider the experience they get from visiting a particular store. According to the 2017 Euclid Analytics report, 44% of respondents age 18 to 34 said store experience is more important when deciding between stores to visit over the holiday season — more than older age groups.
The ease of clicking a button to buy on our phones is changing the game for retailers. However, as lifestyles shift and more people convene around brand-centric experiences, retail marketers who incorporate communal space into reimagined, data inspired shopping environments and connect them to mobile technologies will lead the way. Now who’s ready for a selfie moment with Santa?
Gladys Kong, CEO of UberMedia, is an expert in mobile technology and data solutions. She is dedicated to innovating and developing new ideas within technology startups. Since joining UberMedia as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) in 2012, Kong has been responsible for taking UberMedia from social media app development company to a leading mobile advertising technology company and recruiting one of the best data science teams dedicated to consistently producing data solutions that anticipate and respond to today’s diverse marketplace.