The future of shopping malls: Experiences, versatility and tech

It’s no secret that shopping malls are facing multiple challenges, but just what is it they need to do to transform their fortunes and ensure longevity?

Fundamental changes in consumer shopping behaviour aside, a new survey has come up with some suggestions. 

Data company Valassis has released new research highlighting consumers’ pain points and preferences when it comes to the indoor shopping mall experience. It spoke to 1,000 US consumers who are regular mall shoppers, and the study really underlines just why malls are suffering.

The fact is that people who used to have to do most of their shopping in a mall, aren’t in that position any more – around half of them say that they do most of their shopping online.

So why do they even bother still going to malls? Well, more than 60% of respondents go to buy fashion, and say they’re more likely to shop for clothing in a mall than online. Some 39% like the option of having multiple retailers in one place so they can potentially complete several purchases in one location. Trying on and comparing is also a clear advantage malls have over online storefronts. 

More generally across product categories, the survey found mall shopping also offers other advantages, including the social aspects of getting out and about with family and friends (24%); convenience for quick gift purchases (20%); a full-day experience that may include dining and entertainment (19%); and the ability to compare prices and products across multiple stores (18%).

“While the retail industry is certainly being disrupted, brick-&-mortar stores aren’t going anywhere,” said Curtis Tingle, chief marketing officer at Valassis. “However, they do need to evolve to meet modern shoppers’ expectations. Consumers want convenience, product options and incentives and all brick-&-mortar retailers, especially malls, need to understand their audience so they can provide an experience that makes visiting worthwhile”.

The survey also detailed both what would drive shoppers to malls and what would drive them away, as well as just why so many prefer shopping online.

They go online for a broader range of product options/variations (40%); avoiding hectic crowds/parking (38%), not having to travel (24%) and reducing impulse purchases (16%). 

But what would encourage them to visit indoor malls? More opportunities for savings/discounts (59%); features like valet parking (20%); interesting happenings such as pop-up shops and giveaways (18%); and on-site grocery shopping options (17%). Respondents also called for shorter queues and waiting times, as well as more access to in-store customer service representatives. 

In fact, those two features are key to what consumers see as being convenience-enhancing services. Some 25% define convenience as minimal wait time and easy checkout; 18% as help in-store; 13% as the ability to return online purchases in-store; 11% as the ability to pick up e-purchases; and the same number as using mobile apps to redeem coupons and to pay.

And given that many consumer convenience demands are built around tech, there’s clearly an opportunity here. Shoppers are increasingly engaging with technology in their everyday lives with 24% of those surveyed saying they’ve experienced cashier-less checkout services and 20% have used digital wallets or payment systems in-store via apps. Another 7% have interacted with digital/voice assistants and augmented or virtual reality experiences.

But 51% have yet to encounter innovative technologies, “providing a ripe opportunity for retailers to attract new, curious audiences,” Valassis stressed.


Interested in the future of retail? Read WGSN Insight’s cornerstone report ‘Retail Priorities 2018’ here.

Know what’s next. Become a WGSN member today to benefit from our daily trend intelligence, retail analytics, consumer insights and bespoke consultancy services.