Freddy Swan

Enclosed retail shopping malls started to pop up all around the country about 60 years ago. They prospered by offering appealing shopping opportunities while providing a variety of products and a sense of shopping excitement. Of course, there was the food court and sometimes even upscale dining.Most urban planners believed that enclosed shopping malls played a key role in the demise of conventional downtown retail areas in their cities and suburban neighborhoods.

Now with the convenience and range of Internet shopping, there’s been a shift in how consumers shop. Online shopping has taken a bite out of the traditional shopping mall’s historic customer base and the sales those malls once generated.

The challenge for retailers is now two-fold: they have to keep their brick and mortar stores relevant while also offering an omni-channel shopping experience that’s consistent in the physical retail environment and in online platforms.

Malls across the country are answering the first challenge and fighting to relevant by radically altering how they’re designed. The original enclosed malls were strictly shopping complexes. Now malls feature theme parks, aquariums, spas, restaurants and attractions designed to entice. The best of the new malls have become tourist destinations.

Upscale dining and entertainment have become more important to many malls. Jesse Tron, spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, the trade group for the shopping center industry says, “It’s important to become more than an outlet for the distribution of goods.”

According to Jeff Strung, Owner and Director of Planning and Landscape Architecture at EMH&T, “There’s been a change in demographics and the younger generations have a desire for walkability. They want a work and play lifestyle where things are accessible on foot and not a destination that you have to drive to by car. It’s been this shift that’s driven the trend toward integrated, multi-use communities where people can live, work and play.”

Now retail space is essentially part of a lifestyle. New malls resemble towns with individualized buildings. Others are open-air spaces where visitors can take in the beauties of nature. “Instead of enclosed malls, the U.S. will continue to see a lot of open-air outlet malls built,” says Ellen Durham-Jones, professor of architecture and urban design at Georgia Tech.

The second challenge that retailers face is creating a consistent experience both in the physical store and online. Shoppers should experience a seamless transition from one platform to the next. If retailers remain focused on the future and committed to integrating the advantages of modern technology into their retail space they have more viability to maintain a brick and mortar presence in addition to a strong online presence.

The best in the industry will address both these challenges with the same amount of innovation and tenacity if they want to maintain a traditional storefront. If they neglect to address the need to alter the physical store environment to fit the needs of the customers or if they fail to offer a seamless experience customers will lose interest and ultimately the brick and mortars will lose revenue.