Bringing shopping malls into the 21st century

If all its stores consolidated their technology and resources, a mall could deliver a shopping experience that even Amazon couldn't match

mall image
Credit: Mall At Short Hills

Major retail shopping malls today function, for the most part, frighteningly similarly to how they did 20 years ago. Although individual stores might accept some NFC payments and broadcast beacon coupons to mobile phones, the stores are their own islands, benefiting from none of the attributes of being right next to each other and often sharing a mall LAN.

Consider a very different experience: What if a shopper needs an entirely new outfit — or, for that matter, is trying to obtain everything needed for a new house — and plans to visit five or six stores to accomplish this? Why couldn't the shopper select all six stores from an app and have the relevant details (sizes, colors, price range, styles, etc.) shared so that purchases can be coordinated? Why not replace six payment-card charges with one? Why not enable all of the returns at one central point? In other words, why not take advantage of the fact that you might have 80 or more stores in one building?

Some very limited possibilities of such an effort — creating a truly integrated mall — was discussed in the May issue of Stores Magazine, but it was limited to adding a few hints of shared services. "There are certain elements that mall owners don’t own, creating a need for more cohesive relationships with retailers. 'The mall and retail are linked, [but] in some ways they’re not,' said David Munczinski, founder and CEO of Brickwork, a company that helps retailers bridge online and bricks-and-mortar shopping. 'There’s an opportunity for mall companies to continue to invest in experience and continue to be centers for service. You see mall developers now rolling out concierge, personal shopping across multiple stores, focusing on local delivery.'"

But all that such efforts will do is make the shopping mall experience a little more pleasant than it is today. In terms of overall efficiency, it won't make much of a difference. True integration, though, would. It could deliver a customer experience difference of reducing a five-hour mall visit to a two-hour one — while the stores would still register the same number and dollar-value of purchases.

Indeed, if this works, it would likely sharply boost revenue, since it would be a materially better experience. If the shopper plans to purchase one item from one store, the existence of a centralized mall doesn't help. The shopper would get the same benefit from visiting that chain's stand-alone store. It's the multi-item, complicated purchases where mall integration makes a difference.

Thus far, we've discussed a multi-store shopping trip to accomplish a single task, such as getting a full new wardrobe for a wedding or populating an empty house. But what about the most obvious reason for a multi-item mall trip: holiday shopping.

For many shoppers, holiday shopping involves getting a lot of different gifts for different people. In that case, sharing measurements or style information doesn't help much. But what if the shopper enters her gift list into a mall app, which would then suggest various stores to accommodate different gift recipients? The shopper could accept a bunch of the suggestions, and the app would suggest a route (start at store one and then go to store five, all based on store location) for the greatest efficiency.

In theory, the items could even be sent to a central location so the shopper could visit one place to examine — and pay for — all of the items. That matches the convenience of one-stop shopping with the ability to examine all merchandise. In short, you're giving shoppers a concrete reason to go to the mall instead of using Amazon.

This gives you the option of volume pricing discounts across the universe of mall retail tenants. Again, this gives an incentive for mall shopping that is hard to match.

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