The impact of shifting consumer habits, millennials in the marketplace, and the overwhelming changes brought to bear on traditional retail by e-commerce has impelled the re-imagining of brick-and-mortar retail environments. Restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and wellness-based stores have replaced traditional and soft goods as key tenants in malls. Therefore, innovative use of retail space and new ways to attract foot traffic are more important in bolstering fledgling centers and minimizing vacancies.
Mall owners are now looking to bring in non-traditional tenants that celebrate and leverage the use of communal spaces. They are looking to the business, education and healthcare industries- with shared office space, satellite campuses and outpatient facilities leading the way. Property owners are also experimenting with more flexible, interim uses of space. Creative pop-ups, micro-boutiques, art studio space and seasonal event promotions are now popular and extend the visibility and desirability of otherwise under-utilized mall space.
Differentiating retail offerings – with national chains lining up with independent brands tailored to a specific demographic – has also been effective in giving centers a competitive edge. Shoppers and diners want choice and they want experiential offerings that feel “local” and curated. The use of smaller retail floor plates, pedestrian walkways, and access to a variety of transportation modalities from biking, walking and driving all contribute to an inviting sense of center accessibility. Finally, technology is playing an expanded role in boosting the viability of brick and mortar centers with face recognition and AI. Many stores now offer the opportunity to buy online and pick up in store; special brand promotions can be delivered to smart phones in real time and social media inspires customers with curated looks of what to buy, and endless source lists. Whether through omnichannel fufillment or instagram-loaded aspirational buy opportunities, today’s mall owners are responding to how shoppers want to experience their centers.