Why community is critical to the future of malls

28 : 08 : 2018 Retail : Leisure : Hospitality

With incessant news of closures, future retail spaces must draw on the worldview of locals, writes Tori Tasch, senior brand strategist at FRCH Design Worldwide.

concept for a new mall, Volt in Berlin, by J Mayer H concept for a new mall, Volt in Berlin, by J Mayer H

A shopping centre in a diverse neighbourhood with a passion for the arts should look different to one in a wealthy, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ suburb.

Tori Tasch, senior brand strategist, FRCH Design Worldwide

In the heyday of bustling shopping centres, developers were safe with the ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy. Across their national mall sites, they could echo layouts, tenants and amenities with a justified confidence that visitors would swarm to shop, mall-walk and people-watch.

But with incessant updates about retailers shutting their doors, we know all too well that this passive strategy is no longer sufficient.

The good news? Brick-and-mortar isn’t going away – consumers are merely expecting better, smarter experiences, priming the retail landscape for disruptive leaders to shake things up. The tougher news? Building and maintaining relevance as a coveted shopping destination is no easy feat. There is no longer an automatic blueprint to guarantee a centre’s success, but there are proven best practices that will guide mixed-use retail into the future.

Drawing on their interests and worldviews, future centres must unify residents’ similarities and celebrate their diversity.

For example, leading shopping centres are those that balance a deep understanding of both widely universal, sociocultural trends and unique, localised insights of the community they’re serving. They track and anticipate broad shifts of attitudes and behaviours occurring in the world-at-large, and respond accordingly.

The sharing economy, for example, has prompted designated pick-up/drop-off zones for shoppers using Uber, while on-site electric vehicle charging stations are transforming parking lots. Such additions demonstrate a developer’s awareness of creating meaningful, relevant experiences for shoppers.

An understanding of the nuanced demographics and psychographics of the town or region is also paramount. Drawing on their interests and worldviews, future centres must unify residents’ similarities and celebrate their diversity. For example, a shopping centre in a diverse, metropolitan neighbourhood with a passion for the arts should look different than one in a wealthy, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ suburb. And when it comes to tenant mix, this should ultimately reflect the desires of local shoppers; do they crave luxury designers or local artisans?

From the macro down to the micro, every element of a future mall space has to feel purposeful.

Centres should also establish their own, distinct brand to guide decision-making when it comes to programming and activations for the centre, and to distinguish it in the minds of its visitors. How a centre is positioned even has the power to elevate or redefine the area that surrounds it, as The Source hotel and market hall is doing in the RiNo neighbourhood of Denver.

More than ever, centres must be designed in the grandest sense of the word. From the macro down to the micro, every element of the space has to be – and feel – purposeful. Seen in practice, the Avalon is a seamlessly intertwined, immersive experience in Alpharetta, Georgia, that boasts nine acres of gathering space and a dynamic streetscape open 18 hours a day. It has hosted more than 200 community events since it opened in April 2017, and with rental rates that are 30-75% above market average, it evidence that mixed-use lifestyle centres increasingly prevail.

By mapping the varied usage types that make up a centre – from retail, dining and residential, to office, public spaces and entertainment – diligent master site planning will ensure that collectively, they bring visitors’ journeys to life, while the environment, from the inside out, should integrate technology, facilitate human connection and stimulate the senses.

As culture and commerce continue to transform at an astounding rate, it’s critical that developers maintain an ever-evolving mindset to ensure their shopping centre experiences lead in the marketplace and resonate with visitors.

Tori Tasch is senior brand strategist at design and architectural firm FRCH Design Worldwide. For more on the future of retail, explore our macro trend Storefront Salvation.