When was the last time you went to a mall? For me, it was over the holiday season when I hesitantly performed pick up and drop off duties for my family. Usually packed to the gills during peak holiday times, mall traffic was noticeably lighter. As I watched the masses comb for sales in the brick-and-mortar space, I couldn’t help but wonder about the crowds that I couldn’t see. What happened to this once great meeting place: is it dying a slow, painful death or does the mall space have time yet to reinvent itself? Or is the writing on the wall with the onslaught of technical marvels like Google Glass, in-store tracking concerns and Amazon’s uncanny ability to outperform everyone leaving the remainder of retailers to battle for a smaller piece of the retail pie?
The Great American Mall was once a symbol of strength, vibrancy and a status symbol for shoppers everywhere. Many once-thriving mega-anchors like JC Penney have laid off workers by the hundreds or similar to now-shuttered Borders, closed their cash registers for the last time. Empty store-fronts sit vacant and eerily dark within the malls of today and it’s easy to lose count of the once mighty shopping meccas going bust. There’s even a website that chronicles dying malls and closed stores within shopping centers. In fact, Green Street Advisors forecast that 15% of the nation’s enclosed malls will fail or be converted into non-retail space in the next decade, up from its prediction of 10% just two years ago.
While the cool factor of yesterday’s mall has certainly ebbed in the wake of the digital revolution, there’s no question that brick-and-mortars have some catching up to do with their leaner digital counterparts. Pricey real estate and personnel costs are just some of the factors that can eat away at profits. Throw in the customer experience conundrum in an omnichannel world and it’s enough to pack up and turn the store-front into a museum exhibit of what once was.
But many companies are viewing today’s non-line customer and their desire for a universal experience across all channels as a rallying cry for action. Brands like Staples are rebalancing their resources to support strong online strategies and a chance to realign investments to better support fast-growth ecommerce sales. For them, and major retailers everywhere, the challenge is to bridge the gap between the physical and digital while still delivering excellent customer experiences. This doesn’t mean the all-important store or even the once mighty mall will disappear but we will begin to experience an era where retailers begin to right size their brick-and-mortar locations based off customer needs and wants.
Our latest contributed article “Should rightsizing be retail’s next big step“, featured in Multichannel Merchant, examines what size is the right size–be it pop-up, smaller concepts or even out of the box options like mini distribution centers. Read the article and then tell us in the comments section what you think is retail’s next big step.