Thomas Mark, President of MK Illumination and Member of the ACROSS Advisory Board. Credit: MK Illumination
Cover Story | Feature | Opinion

Setting the Standard for Society in 2021

“Now is the time for malls and retailers to step up and become the centers of community that they have professed to be for at least a decade.”

By Thomas Mark

There is no denying that 2020 has been a tough year for everyone, and shopping centers and brick-and-mortar retailers have been hit particularly badly. Rolling setbacks have forced many to close their doors, re-assess their business models, and attempt to compete with well-established online retailers, all in the space of a matter of months. In spite of all that, I am optimistic about the future of shopping centers and retailers that have made it their mission to create analogue experiences for customers. Why? Because, people who were once blasé about their freedom to leave their homes, to gather, shop, and socialize have learned just how quickly that freedom can be curtailed, and just how valuable face-to-face interactions are in their lives. They want to leave their homes and commune in spaces, and few sectors are as well placed to provide that (and a great deal more) than shopping centers.

That does not mean that retail spaces can be complacent and assume that footfall numbers will start to rise as lockdowns end. To get people out of their pajamas and into centers, retailers have to do more than simply “be”. They have to turn spaces into safe places that are filled with atmosphere, community, and celebration, and that is a classic example of placemaking.

The art of placemaking has many different components. In my experience, particularly with regard to the challenging months that are hopefully behind us, I believe that shopping centers are uniquely placed to create spaces that: are filled with atmospheres that make people feel safe, comfortable, and confident that they – and their loved ones – are not putting anyone at risk by leaving their homes; are gathering spaces and centers of local community where families, friends, and friends-to-be can enjoy time together across generational and cultural divides; celebrate important festivities and perhaps even become intrinsic parts of annual celebrations that are important in their communities.

Do centers need a vision and a creative concept? Of course, they do. They also need festive lighting, décor, and design that makes spaces more welcoming, that creates an intangible but essential feeling of security and safety, and that offers an experience that “sitting at home and shopping online while watching Netflix” cannot compete with. By linking the placemaking vision to recurring seasonal events like Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas, shopping centers can tap into people’s need for ritual, and can not only drive footfall, but help their communities return to normality. Now is the time for shopping centers and retailers to step up and become the centers of community that they have professed to be for at least a decade. As spaces that offer to meet a mix of needs – leisure, shopping, eating and drinking, entertainment, and often more, too – I believe that centers have an opportunity to define the “new normal” and set the standard for a return to social and public life.

If centers can meet the challenge head-on, working within the boundaries of limited financial resources, and using their limitless creativity to help themselves and their communities, they may yet rise from the global shifts arising from the pandemic stronger than before.

Sign up for our ACROSS Newsletter. Subscribe to ACROSS Magazine.

Opinion MORE

Most Problems are of a Company’s Own Making

Retail has changed. Do you really understand how things currently work or how they will work in the future? Are you still waiting for everything to go back to “the way it used to be”?

Green sports in real estate

The real estate business is not a sport but there are many similarities. Fair play, progress through training, new methodologies, competition, success (and failure), injuries and recovery, awards, fame etc.

Future-proofing Retail Involves Continuous Transformation

“According to a study by Simon-Kucher & Partners, customers miss brick-and-mortar retail, with 90% of respondents indicating that they are looking forward to being able to visit local stores again once the lockdown has been lifted.”

Making Europe’s Retail Real Estate Paris-proof

“While the pandemic rages on, the climate crisis remains ever-present.”

Accelerating the outlet centres playbook

The pandemic has turned the world’s economy and the retail landscape on its head. For the retail sector it has been a year like no other, but it is becoming clear that the health crisis has impacted the industry at different degrees. Although outlet centres are not immune to the pandemic’s toll, they have recovered at a much faster pace than other retail formats when restrictions were eased or lifted.

The three Laws of Robotics to support the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive

The building sector is crucial for achieving the EU's energy and environmental goals.