Malls: The Comeback Kid of American Retail

digital experiences at malls

The death of the mall and brick-and-mortar retail has been a constant concept for over a decade. 

The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly shocked the retail industry, which was already feeling pressure from e-commerce and experiencing decreased foot traffic, bringing back the buzzworthy fears of a “retail apocalypse.” Stores were suddenly devoid of customers as the world locked itself down in an effort to contain the virus’s spread, and as a result, storefronts shuttered, and malls became emptier than before.

Landlords frantically began to speculate whether customers were lost forever and the crucial next steps required to survive. If it wasn’t clear already, the pandemic crystallized it: the traditional mall needs to reinvent itself, and retailers who aren’t embracing technology and data will simply not survive. 

[Read more: The Anti-Mall: How Innovative Store Partnerships Are Changing the Face of Retail]

Both landlords and retailers are approaching advanced analytics and shopper traffic-circulation data to determine how to better appeal to shoppers’ needs and wants, while progressive companies are adopting all kinds of innovative technologies to enhance the brand experience. Landlords and retailers who haven’t must begin capitalizing on digital tools to maximize productivity and efficiency and create dynamic and engaging experiences for customers.

For many consumers, it’s no longer about simply visiting a store. Having done their research online, customers arrive at the store knowing exactly what they want and, in many cases, understanding a product’s features and benefits. These tech advances allow shoppers to touch, experience, and then buy products from stores at the mall and either receive their purchases through in-person pickup or delivery channels.

Research shows that these behaviors have likely become fully entrenched during the pandemic, and the path to purchase has been altered permanently. As a result, many malls and retailers have launched omnichannel e-commerce platforms.

But even without launching a dedicated online shopping platform, malls can leverage existing data on consumers’ online behaviors to better understand visitors’ shopping habits and select tenants accordingly. This will assist in considering the size and number of stores that will meet customers’ needs, eliminating poorer-performing stores, and focusing on flagship, showroom, virtual-reality, and pop-up experiences.

Additionally, consumer search data can be broken down by geography, giving mall operators a sense of the retail trends that are likely to be popular with consumers in their specific region. There tends to be a significant correlation between mall visitors’ web searches and the performances of different mall tenants. The ongoing recognition of these linkages will continue to boost the capacity of malls and their tenants to maximize site selection processes and location performance. Understanding how consumers behave online can also help mall tenants optimize the product mix for each space.

Consumers will no longer come in to browse blindly; they're increasingly looking for a digitized experience both online and off. To survive and thrive in the modern era, landlords and retailers need to focus on reinvigorating the shopping environment by working diligently to keep up with relevant online trends, seasonality, and guest experience expounded by ever-changing data. Ultimately, those who evolve with digitally-enabled innovations will see long-term success and increased foot traffic of consumers looking to enjoy the various features of the mall of the future.

Brett Rose is the founder and CEO of United National Consumer Suppliers (UNCS), an international wholesale distribution company providing products to Macy’s, Ross Stores, TJX Companies, Dollar Tree, Amazon resellers, and many more. The company sources over 50 different product categories for over 120,000 retailers and e-tailers in 34 countries. Outside of the office, Rose dedicates his time to philanthropic causes within his local community. He has been a member of the board of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida and Joe Di Maggio Children’s Hospital & Memorial Health Foundation.

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