What Can We Expect from Shopping Malls in the Future?

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With companies like Amazon now offering virtual shopping experiences that never require consumers to even leave their homes, many people are wondering whether shopping malls will be around much longer as we move into the future. With quirky sites like Deadmalls.com offering proof of the increasing number of "ghost malls," you have to wonder if traditional malls will soon be a thing of the past.

Experts seem to have mixed opinions. It’s likely that malls will still be around for a long time to come, but you can expect them to be very different from malls of the past very soon.

From Shopping Center to Shipping Center

There's nothing quite like a leisurely trip to the mall with your pals, but these days, it's easy to get so caught up in other demands that instant shopping options like Amazon seem far more convenient. Although the number of shopping centers in America quadrupled from 1970 to 2017, many don't seem to be doing very well these days.

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Back in 1976, Ohio's Randall Park Mall briefly enjoyed the title of the world's largest shopping center, only to decline to a 92% vacancy rate by 2000. By 2017, Amazon had announced plans to build a shipping center over the mall's old site.

Evolving Expectations

On the other hand, the "retail apocalypse" has yet to touch other shopping centers, such as Dubai Mall, which hosts more than 80 million visitors each year. What’s the attraction? Well, as the most visited mall in the world, Dubai Mall was obviously among the first to realize that malls of the future are about more than just shopping.

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As MatchesFashion.com founder Tom Chapman explained, "Stores cannot just be row after row of product rail anymore. To survive, they have to tell stories — rooted in a sense of community and entertainment — and have points of view that make the owner stand out."

Experience Over Extravagance

Malls like the one in Dubai understand that the old standard lineup of JCPenney's, Claire's and Hot Topic just aren't cutting it anymore with shoppers. More than just a collection of stores — 1,200 of them, to be exact — the Dubai Mall features everything from a virtual-reality theme park to an aquarium with a glass tunnel.

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With plenty of restaurants, attractions and even classes, this mall was among the first to start moving toward the trends of retail's future. These new shopping centers will be more about experiences rather than mere buildings with retail goods.

A Store with a Story

Rest assured that stores and malls in the U.S. are also catching on to the idea of reinventing the shopping experiences of their customers. A store called Story, which was founded by Rachel Shechtman, has already begun redefining retail by giving itself a complete makeover every few months.

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Story stays fresh by shifting its stores’ designs, products and themes, much in the same way that a magazine produces new issues. They even feature "living advertorials," where companies pay up to $500,000 to have their products featured for a certain length of time.

The Micro-City Mall

The concept of reinventing our idea of the average store is going to be one that will start applying to entire malls soon. Recently, shopping center developers from a company called Westfield revealed their futuristic vision called "Destination 2028." Westfield's vision was no mere exercise in speculation, but a research-based project that was developed with the help of a panel of experts.

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The team included retail specialists, experimental physiologists and even a futurologist (yes, that’s a thing). The result predicted the future would be filled with experienced-based shopping centers that integrated leisure, community and even wellness into malls that were more like "hyper-connected micro-cities."

Environmental Integration

Westfield predicted that not only will many malls of the future be geared around socialization, but they will also incorporate the environment in ways that old brick and mortar malls never dreamed of doing. Many shopping centers are already seeing a trend toward open-air layouts that give them the atmosphere of little villages.

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Even malls that are still enclosed have begun leaning more toward a natural feel with lots of trees, waterfalls and plenty of sunlight. Outdoor malls will keep their new shopping cities connected with AI-infused walkways and plenty of apps to help personalize your shopping experience.

Urban Farming

Westfield and other developers are even predicting that many future shopping centers will go as far as integrating urban farms into their landscapes. As wellness continues to become a bigger concern for many shoppers today, the idea of being able to pick your own produce is definitely a pretty cool one.

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The urban farm idea would also be a huge perk for the mall's restaurants, allowing them to provide their customers with food that's as fresh as it gets. One mall in Singapore already uses their roof garden to source products for skincare products.

Retail Robots

Despite the trend toward cleaner living that's likely to pop up in malls of the future, rest assured that there will still be lots of cool new technological gadgets as well. This even includes Jetson-style retail robots like Pepper that are already being tested in some retail stores.

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These cute little humanoid guys are fluent in eight different languages and are designed to serve as your own personal stylist and sales rep. Not only will they soon be able to help you with your purchases in the store, but they will even be able to follow up via text later on to ensure you come back.

Magic Mirror

Technology is already making for a more seamless shopping experience for some retailers, such as Charlotte Tilbury cosmetics company. The stores currently feature interactive "magic mirrors" that can superimpose various looks onto your facial reflection.

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That way you can try out all different kinds of make-up without ever having to reach for a single facial wipe. You can even email yourself your photos of your favorite looks to use as a reference — or as your new hot-hot-hot profile photo, for that matter. Sephora also has a similar virtual makeup mirror on their app.

Virtual Fitting Rooms

If a mirror can let you try on digital makeup looks, can it do the same for clothes? You bet it can! There are now mirrors that can allow you to browse through a store's entire selection of outfits without requiring you to show up at the fitting room with an armload of choices.

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While these mirrors will never be a 100% accurate substitute for actually trying on an outfit, they can sure help you cut down on the choices you want to actually try. When you find what you think could be the perfect piece, you can simply call for a store assistant who will grab you the real thing.

Virtual Adventures

Virtual reality is not only sure to help make shopping easier in the future, but many malls will use it as a form of entertainment. Westfield Century City Mall in Los Angeles already has a VR experience center called Dreamscape that offers a variety of virtual adventures for excited consumers.

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You can go on an adventure through an alien zoo, travel deep beneath the sea or even attend a dragon flying academy. These fully immersive, free-roam virtual experiences will soon be the kind of things you can find at the average mall, rather than just at pricey theme parks.

Automatic Customized Suggestions

China seems to be leading the way when it comes to giving shoppers a hand in the product selection department. Recently, China Information Technology released a new interactive shopping terminal called YunTouch. Each YunTouch terminal comes with an LCD touch screen, a microphone and a built-in HD camera.

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But the truly impressive thing is that it uses facial recognition to collect and analyze your past purchases and shopping behavior. It can then give you customized information about new products to help steer you toward the types of items that you're most likely to want to check out.

Pain-Free Parking

One of everyone's biggest complaints about venturing out into the world of physical shopping centers is the problem with finding parking close to the building or even finding a spot at all. The bigger and flashier malls become, the more exhausting it seems to be to find a spot to park before you can even make it inside.

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This will also soon be a thing of the past. Many malls are now using overhead sensors that are located above parking spots in their garages. Each sensor triggers a red light over a spot that has been taken and a green light over a spot that's open.

Rental Retail

Some retail experts predict that going to the mall in the future may not always be about making a purchase. The success of businesses like Rent the Runway, which allows you to rent high-end fashion items, is only likely to continue to expand.

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Whether you're looking to rent exercise gear or a designer dress to wear to the prom, you will soon be able to skip the expense of actually flat out buying it. After all, there's nothing worse than shelling out cash for a dress that's likely to hang in your closet unworn for years after one night out.

Holographic Advertisements

Things are also bound to get a lot more exciting when it comes to in-store advertising in the years to come. While retailers often depend on brightly colored signs and displays for now, the future is headed toward adding a whole new (literal) dimension to advertising.

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Some stores are already beginning to test drive 3D floor ads that project holograms to grab their customers' attention. Given that virtual ads cut out the need to constantly order and display new signage — which also drastically cuts down on waste and pollution — 3D ads are likely to become the norm within the next few decades.

The End of the Checkout Line

Hate waiting in line at the checkout register? Soon, the whole concept may be a thing of the past. Amazon has already developed a store called Amazon Go that has eliminated the need for a checkout line altogether. You literally just grab whatever products you want and walk out.

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How does it work? Well, the answer is incredibly high tech, but, roughly speaking, the store uses technology like computer vision, deep learning and sensors to detect when you take a product. After keeping track of your selections in a virtual shopping cart, it charges your Amazon account when you leave.

Prime Air

While physical malls of the future will doubtless have all kinds of cool perks, online malls will still remain a major factor for retailers. If you think that two-day Prime delivery is great, then wait until Amazon really gets its Prime Air program underway.

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The drone delivery service is already being tested in select cities, and it promises to deliver small individual online orders to customers in 30 minutes or less. This is made possible by the use of unpiloted drones that will swoop down and deliver your package right to your doorstep.

Smart Loos

Aside from the fun communal experience of getting out of the house, going to the mall may soon have another quirky perk. In their vision of the mall of the future, Westfield revealed that even the bathrooms in shopping centers are sure to get a futuristic upgrade.

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"Smart loos" will someday be able to give you feedback, including hydration levels and nutritional needs, every time you stop in to do your business. Not only will they help you decide which restaurant to visit in the food court, but they will also communicate with the cleaning staff when cleaning and maintenance are needed.

Shopping Galleries

Department store Lord & Taylor understands that being able to view photos of items isn't the same as being able to see them in person. That's why they recently revealed The Dress Address, a 30,000 square-foot gallery that now serves as the largest dress floor in the country.

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The Dress Address features its own gallery, where you can rent a personal shopping suite and explore dresses from designers like Oscar de la Renta, Antonio Berardi and more. Complete with a full-service concierge, robes and complimentary alterations, it's a fashion show and shopping experience combined.

All About the Apps

Apps have already revolutionized the way that many retailers interact with their customers, and they will soon help guide you through your own personalized shopping experiences. One Chinese IT company recently unveiled the Feifan app, which is now available for use at more than 350 shopping malls.

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The app helps you navigate through the shopping center and provides suggestions based on your shopping profile and preferences. It also helps you access free Wi-Fi and make restaurant reservations in case you want to plan a meal at some point during your shopping excursion.

Learning Spaces

One of the more intriguing ideas in Westfield's vision for malls of the future is the idea of reading rooms that offer shoppers access to every book ever written. While that may be a tall order, the idea isn’t without merit.

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Many of Westfield's malls already house book exchange centers where you can leave an old book and take a new one in return. Most of the ideas behind futuristic mall trends are pointing to communal spaces where people can come together, so why not incorporate educational opportunities as well?

Classroom Retail

Another education-based idea that's already starting to gain traction is "classroom retail." These days, many brands are realizing that in order to connect to prospective customers, it's important to provide them with engaging new ways to interact. That's why some brands are starting to offer showcases and presentations about their products.

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By attending a classroom retail event, you will get a behind the scenes peek at who exactly is making your favorite products and what sort of process goes into creating them. It's a great way for stores to attract and educate their shoppers at the same time.

Pop-Up Stores

Although they've been popping up — pun intended — in major cities like London and Los Angeles since the 1990s, pop-up stores are becoming far more common these days in the retail world. The whole idea behind them is to set up a temporary store that will typically only be in business for anywhere from three days to three months.

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Given the open-air vision of the mall of the future, pop-up stores are sure to become a popular staple. Soon, there may be new stores at the mall every time you go. Talk about making your trip interesting!

Wellness Zones

Let's face it, a trip to the mall can be exhausting. As malls get bigger, spending a day visiting all those different shops can sometimes sound like a daunting prospect. That's why some retailers have begun suggesting the integration of wellness zones into malls.

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Imagine being able to drop your bags off in a locker and take a break by getting a massage or enjoying a meditation class. Taking the time to completely zone out in a spot specifically set aside for refreshing relaxation is definitely something that many shoppers will jump at.

Fitness-Fueled Fun

Mall walking won't always be the only exercise available at the shopping center near you. Malls such as the America Dream Center in New Jersey now come fully equipped with all kinds of fun fitness opportunities. You can take your kids to the huge indoor waterpark or enjoy skiing and snowboarding at the indoor snow resort.

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The Center even has an NHL regulation-size ice rink where you can ice skate or play a little hockey. There's also a Nickelodeon theme park, not to mention the blacklight mini golf course that is currently under construction.

Value Centers

Will all malls of the future feature huge, city-like layouts? Not necessarily. There will still be smaller malls, some of which will doubtless take another path to futuristic mall success. Known as "value centers," these smaller shopping centers will feature stores based on a set of shared values.

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For instance, one mall might decide to feature local artisans, businesses and foods rather than the standard selection of larger retail giants. Another might bring together stores that embrace fair trade policies or are themed around the ideas of health and wellness.

Retaildential Centers

While there's been a lot of talk about making future shopping malls feel like mini-villages, don't forget that even the smallest of towns has residents. This will also be true for many malls in the future, as we start to see what some researchers call "retaildential centers" begin to pop up.

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Unlike traditional malls, these new models have begun to integrate apartments and condos into the makeup of the mall's layout. These living spaces generally take the form of apartments and lofts on the upper floors of a building that houses a store or stores on its first floor.

Book a Mall Stay

You'll also soon be able to sleep at the mall, even if you aren't up for living there in a retaildential model. As malls are incorporating more and more attractions, they are also becoming tourist draws in their own right. That's why many of them are now beginning to feature their own hotels.

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The benefits to that idea are obvious when you think about being on vacation and staying in a hotel that literally has attractions and shopping right outside your door. The idea of being able to check out for a weekend and relax at your local mall may sound strange, but it’s not a bad plan!

Eco-Friendly Transport Options

A key ingredient to any successful shopping center is its ease of access, and malls are beginning to pick up on some innovative ideas. While making their parking lots easier to navigate is a big help, they are also beginning to find ways to make driving less necessary in the first place.

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Some larger malls already have electronic trolleys that will pick you up from one building and transport you to another. Others are establishing bus stations right outside their doors and providing access to shared transportation devices, such as electric scooters for rent and bike stations.

The Great Mall Shift

As you can see, the mall of the past may be going the way of the dinosaurs, but that doesn't mean that shopping will be limited to online retail only any time soon. Malls are simply realizing that as technology has advanced, it's time for them to think of new and better ways to keep customers engaged.

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This will end up being a good thing for consumers, as the trends in shopping shift from simple transactions to all-around experiences. Soon the mall will be an even better community experience than it ever was in the past.