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Monday, June 15, 2009

Rethinking the Mall & Uncovering Retail Creativity

Mosaic Mall originally uploaded by /\ltus.
What's next for retail? How to reinvent the mall experience? How to adapt to 'changing consumer attitudes about consumption' and the desire for more sustainable environments? Start by reading the article Allison Arieff from The New York Times wrote on 6/1/09. It's titled Rethinking the Mall and reviews entries to the inaugural ICSC Future Image Architecture Competition.

In addition to touching on some of the retail frustrations I've encountered in Las Vegas, she expresses disappointment that so few of the entries "paid [attention] to things like sustainable architecture, alternative transit or changing consumer attitudes about consumption."

However, Arieff highlights intriguing concepts around rethinking the mall, looking at human behavior in conjunction with physical space and at "technology not as some sci-fi fantasy, but as something that could enhance not only the shopping experience but environmental and social conditions as well."

One example reexamines the relationship between customer and retailer, to offer services like:

- "assist[ing] consumers in budgeting for purchases"
- how to deal with the "brilliant dilemma of 'after-wear' management"
- allowing customers to "donate a percentage of their purchase price to charity"

No surprise, "walkable mixed-use community" comes up -- enhanced for "multi-modal access [not just car but rail, transit and pedestrian]." Social center, too [the author brings up The Ainsworth Collective in Portland Oregon's Cully neighborhood as successful interpretation of a local, cause-oriented retail mall]. Another concept refers to "self-sustaining, self-generating scenario of distributed shopping experiences" that work hand-in-hand with iPhones for easy purchase online. And, yet another concept specifically addresses the "powerful forces shaping a retail renaissance... Internet, social networking, women, food, energy, sustainability factors will determine their [i.e., surviving retailers'] functionality, form and location."

In addition to validating previous posts like Injecting New Life Into Dead Malls, Getting Ahead By Being Local and Retail Experience of the Future, what I appreciate from this article is that there's wonderful creativity yet to be uncovered at retail. And, although about malls and rethinking the mall experience, the learnings, observations and possibilities from this article are much wider-reaching. They are relevant to any retail experience.

David Polinchock makes that same point in his post Rethinking the Mall - Allison Arieff Blog - NYTimes.com, touching on the growing trend to "socialize the retail environment instead of just merchandising the real estate space."

I don't think that the Sears new test concepts [see Sears tests MyGofer prototype store in Joliet] is the answer.

But, look at how museums are socializing their spaces. Intriguing, don't you think?

The question then becomes: how do you socialize YOUR retail space -- regardless of the product category?

Other posts that address 'Rethinking the Mall':
+ From Labelscar: The Retail History Blog, see New York Times on Rethinking the Mall.
+ From Greater City: Providence Blog, see Rethinking the Mall.

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Ted Hurlbut said...

The challenge is in finding uses that are economically viable. The problem is that at the moment we don't know what's viable and what's not. In any event, with commercial real estate being what it is, it's likely to be 3 to 5 years before anybody ir ready to bet they have the answer, and by then perhaps they will. Until then, we're left with speculation, bold ideas, and a whole lot of empty and underutlized mall space.

CB Whittemore said...

Ted, to your list I would add experimentation which is starting to show up in healthier markets. These are definitely interesting times! Thanks for commenting. CB

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