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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.