Shopping malls at risk of extinction

Shopping malls at risk of extinction

20 November 2019 Off By Facto Edizioni

/ by Valerio Mazzoli /

Some thoughts on the topic of retailtainment.

Valerio Mazzoli, theme park & attraction designer

Just like in Darwin’s theory of the evolution of the species, retail giants are transforming to survive, and this is a direct consequence of changes in lifestyles. Buying products online, rather than in physical stores, has made shopping easier and less expensive. However, like in everything, there is a downside: large shopping centres are empty and are often at risk of closure or on the verge of bankruptcy. As a reaction to this crisis, the new growing trend is to upgrade them, turning them into new destination centres: no longer just shopping, but also entertainment venues. 

In itself, on closer inspection, this is nothing new; all over the world, for several years there have been kiddie ride areas in shopping malls, or small FECs, or even, in some cases, true indoor theme parks, as in the case of West Edmonton Mall in Canada, Mall of America in Minnesota, and in large complexes in China, Dubai, etc. This brings high attendance, however above all to the play structures, and only to a small extent to the retail stores, with the consequence that the tenants continue to lose customers and see their revenues fall more and more. In the USA it is increasingly common to come across these large “dying dinosaurs”, with entertainment facilities that are successful (and in many cases, it can be seen that the play structures have an entrance directly from the car parks, thus bypassing the main entrances to the shopping mall). 

This stalemate in large malls, seen in various countries around the world, unfortunately leads to decisions that are often hasty or totally wrong, further worsening precarious situations. Marketing experts are studying new solutions to lead the public in the right direction: to bring together fun and traditional shopping. Many companies are trying different experiences, presenting alternative plans. Like in all evolutions, the road to be travelled is risky and dangerous, and it is hard to find the right solution to reboot these giant structures. 

West Edmonton Mall

In the same way as for theme parks, specific steps must be taken. Taking up what I wrote last month in the article entitled “The Magnificent 10”, in the case of malls we have already exceeded the first points to be examined (such as location and accessibility). What needs to be understood is the budget available and what experiences combined with shopping visitors can enjoy. What are we going to offer, being a destination dedicated to shopping? Entertainment, as I have already said, cannot be divorced from primary business (which in the case of a shopping mall is to sell consumer products), but must be integrated with it. And thus enters the most difficult phase, because we need to consider the country, what the local culture and customs are and how much visitors to the mall are able to spend on both shopping and leisure. In theme parks, the primary activity is fun, and shopping is a consequence of the visit, with the purchase of targeted products with the theme park’s brand. In shopping malls, the situation is almost reversed and here, unlike theme parks, there is no admission ticket that generates immediate income, so it is necessary to consider what percentage of visitors will spend on shopping and entertainment. Certainly this is no easy task, but an interesting challenge. It is also necessary to consider that large structures such as shopping malls have considerable maintenance costs and the solution cannot simply involve a few kiddie rides or some technology applied to leisure. 

My company has been contacted by some shopping mall owners to solve this problem. We are analysing various solutions by meticulously examining the main points presented in this article.

Taken from Games&Parks Industry November 2019, page 90

Valerio Mazzoli /  theme park & attraction designer /