By Thomas Mark
I’m not a forecaster, but I am a student of people. As a global concern, we’ve been on high alert to the risks of coronavirus and the consequences of a crisis since it first made the news in January. During that time, I have witnessed incredible things. How communities and businesses of all shapes and sizes are choosing to do the right thing to keep the spread of the virus under control. How individuals willingly self-quarantine or work from home and restrict movement. At the same time, they are making more of an effort than ever before to pick up the phone, connect, communicate, and show solidarity. How exciting local initiatives are starting up, focusing on buying locally and supporting community businesses.
As much as the virus is forcing us to stand apart, it is also helping us to come togetherin ways that many of us have long forgotten thanks to the fast-paced, technology-driven world in which we live. For the retail sector, I think that this is significant.
Once we manage to get the virus under control—and I have faith that the world’s epidemiologists won’t let us down on this front—I believe that shopping centers and retail spaces will play an invaluable role in providing people with a safe space to congregate. People will want normality, but their perspectives will have shifted: the “new normal” is likely to mean less conspicuous consumption, more mindful purchases, and the desire to come together for something of value. Forecasters have been talking about this for years, and it’s likely that these behaviors will become an instant reality as the fear of the virus recedes. Gathering spaces will be even more important than they were beforebecause we can only truly value something, like our freedom to meet, when we have had it taken away. And shopping centers and malls are gathering spaces.
With that in mind, I feel that centers and malls face extraordinary challenges over the next couple of months, but also that they have an unparalleled opportunity to rethink “business as usual”, along with some unexpected time to put new ideas in place to entice visitors to come back.
Creating the right atmosphere will, of course, play a part in making people feel safe, but this is only part of the equation. If people want to be safe, they can simply stay at home, which is not the goal of the retail sector. The opportunity for centers is to reinvent themselves as curators of experiences that are safe as well as unusual, exhilarating, memorable, comforting, individual, and special. Each center’s positioning is different, which means that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution, but rather a plethora of exciting possibilities for us all to explore. We are living in exciting times. Challenging, but exciting.