Expert opinions, FORECASTS

How can shopping malls survive?

Shopping and entertainment centers are losing ground to online retail. What will be the new fishers or men, the centers of attraction for customers? What will traditional shopping be replaced with? It is already possible to shop from practically anywhere, be it a beauty parlor, fitness club, concert hall or even a sports ground.

Amid the pandemic and the boom of e-commerce, shopping centers are becoming a suitcase without a handle: pain to carry around, and a shame to throw away. They are even jokingly called “retail complexes of inferiority.”

The crazy-popular concept of mass leisure is currently losing its fans. Megamalls, hyperstores and other kinds of fast shop are, in fact, the embodiment of the principles of fast food in retail — that is, saving mass consumers’ time, capabilities and resources through concentrating everything in one location, ranging from convenience goods, fast food outlets and children’s play spaces to brand clothing, restaurants, movie theaters and even skating rinks.

What we have here is a concept of a ‘soup mix’ in a large bowl.

Spending only 2–3 hours shopping for new clothes, having meals, amusing yourself and buying a week’s worth of groceries does not seem miraculous anymore. While some still choose to go shopping, many prefer to do it online.

Yet, people still enjoy traveling, engaging in sports activities and using health services. Healthy lifestyle, biohacking and the pursuit of beauty, youth, new sensations and impressions — all this still prompts customers to go outside their homes and offices. This is the approach that shopping and entertainment centers will possibly follow in the future.

This will eventually attract consumers to large fitness clubs, huge food courts, health and beauty spa salons, sports facilities equipped with golf courses, bicycle tracks, ice rinks, and others. Their fundamental difference from existing similar facilities is maximum accessibility as regards both service cost and location, which allows users to enjoy services aimed at healthy lifestyle — anti-aging, body improvement, self-image development and life prolongation — just within walking distance.  

A more advanced yet so far unattainable option for transformation of shopping and entertainment centers is creating virtual or augmented reality areas in such malls that would look more like film studio interiors rather than traditional shopping stalls, with a large room with a chroma key green screen background used for computer-generated visual effects. Clients will select several kitchen furniture options in an online catalogue; then special equipment will be attached to them (or their family members or assistants) to view a virtual kitchen for each chosen variant, touch interior elements and assess comfort and attractiveness, a process similar to watching a video that uses computer graphics. Customers will see the visuals either on a large screen or using a VR headset, the format depending on advanced quasi-reality technologies to be available.

So people will have a whole package that includes choosing an ideal kitchen, watching a video featuring them and their families, and receiving its copy for extra payment to post it on social media sites or show it to guests at home.

This will result in shopping to eventually become a sort of entertainment, art and recreation while remaining a source of joy and happiness hormones as well as adrenaline — that is, a remedy for stress.

And what about sales? Well, they are here to stay regardless a new shopping and entertainment format. 

By Igor Pylayev, expert in mass communications, author of books on PR and marketing

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