US malls look to rebrand

8 May 2013
NEW YORK: Innovative US shopping malls are turning to mixed-use facilities and social media to tackle the threat of closure as their traditional tenants shut stores and e-commerce gains share.

David Ginsburg, chief executive of Downtown Cincinnati Inc., a business development non-profit, told Ad Week that in the past shopping malls had been set up for developers rather than retailers.

"We need to learn the lesson from the empty malls and make our new shopping centers adaptable for what residents will need in the future," he said, adding that bricks-and-mortar stores would probably become a small part of community mixed-use malls.

Doctors' offices, clinics, churches, indoor sports fields, grassy parks and schools are being explored as alternatives to fill up empty retail space and attract shoppers.

The 25-year-old Cincinnati Mall is currently three-quarters empty, but has been rebranded as the Forest Fair Village. "We are transforming into an indoor family activity and shopping center," said general manager Karla Ellsworth. "It will be a place where parents can browse for clothes or shoes while their children are taking hockey or gymnastics classes."

Raj Kumar, partner in the retail practice of consultancy A.T. Kearney was critical of the traditional mall, saying: "We know cookie-cutter, middle-of-the road shopping environments don't cut it anymore."

He argued that a reinvented mall needed its own brand identity, which could involve activities like ice skating and bowling alongside retail stores carrying unique private label products.

But these stores would have to change the way they operated. "Customers need to feel at home in the retail space," said Kumar, and that meant taking steps to "customize the buying experience to make you feel special".

His words echoed a recent report from the National Retail Federation, which advised that retailers should recast stores as places for discovery and interaction with products.

"No one is ready to abandon the mall concept entirely," said Peter Breen, managing director at the Path to Purchase Institute, but he also noted that major chains had done little to help the situation.

"The emphasis for most of these dinosaurs has been on opening digital channels," he observed, "with the logic that if you can't coax the shoppers out to the mall anymore, then go find them at home."

Data sourced from Ad Week; additional content by Warc staff
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