Gilles Devendeville, Founding Director of Real Consulting, a strategic consulting firm focusing on Leisure–Retailtainment–Placemaking. Credit: Real Consulting
Feature | Food & Beverage / Leisure | Opinion | Ticker

Leisure as the last opportunity for malls to become lifestyle destinations

The reign of retail is over. The Covid-19 crisis is not a black swan for the shopping mall industry.

By Gilles Devendeville

Malls already started to decline in US because they had not taken fundamental changes in customer’s expectations into consideration. The merchandising mix was just starting to include more spaces for food halls, green areas, and leisure concepts in comparison to traditional retail’s activities. Millennials were the first to say that they are willing to “purchase happiness instead of products“ (Forbes). People were already wondering how to spend money in more responsible sectors than retail or for smarter reasons like wellness, education, or active leisure. This crisis has dramatically fostered this distortion between offer and demand.

The model of shopping malls is in jeopardy. After weeks of containment, it is the whole family that will go back to the roots and basic expectations like breathing, walking, playing, eating, or learning but preferably outdoors and together. Outdoor activities will be on the top of the list and the “under one roof “dogma will become a handicap instead of an advantage. People have experienced new ways of shopping like e-commerce and historical destinations like markets–strip malls and city centers will lure people again.

Only leisure can play a role of catalyst to regenerate malls

Quintessentially, leisure is universal as it can tackle all segments of people. No matter how old or rich you are, leisure can satisfy any of your expectations using innovative technologies to create immersive experiences. Flying, skiing, surfing indoor is possible from 5 to 85 years when evolutive concepts are in play.

Malls must create a new business model to secure leisure anchors. People have been frustrated enough with containment; freedom of living is a right and leisure is a debt. It must be a standard, delivered on demand and freely accessible. Co-branding, sponsoring, licensing is a new territory to explore to generate additional income. Fortunately, times are changing and tech labs to launch innovative concepts are thriving and global partnerships like with the Void are signed. 

Fortnite is the new Madonna. Credit: Real Consulting

Focus on Retailtainment

Landlords must regenerate their core business to become lifestyle destinations. Retailtainment has changed the immersive journey of customers by bringing giant games indoors. It is now a question of strategic diversification of the assets themselves. Mixed-use resorts can only diversify the risk and deliver amazing experiences operated by professionals in the fields of art, education, culture, entertainment, or sport. New anchors will be e-sports arenas, surf campuses, art schools, co-working buildings or wellness centers surrounded by green areas, sport clusters on roof tops or virtual museums broadcasting augmented expositions all around the resorts. They will transform retail arenas into lifestyle destinations and will let malls do their own business with a better master planning and place making strategy.

A resort project in London. Credit: Real Consulting

In conclusion, leisure is definitely the last opportunity for shopping centers to adapt their offer, diversify their assets, and become destinations again. To create this new world, let’s benchmark other models and let’s hire not just asset managers but artistic directors, urban planners, and guest managers because we must become dream makers again.

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