Pi Attitude Zone: Material Status

Heading To The Mall

The recession is already getting blamed for the decimation of Britain’s high-street shops, whose doors have been closing along with shoppers’ wallets.  Consumer spending collapsed in the wake of the 2008 downturn, and has recovered only limply since then. Morose bricks-and-mortar retailers have further blamed online selling for their woes. 

Part of the solution to retailers’ problem, they are beginning to think, is to switch effort from high streets to huge shopping centers.  If the cash they pump into keeping town center outlets open were reinvested in out-of town malls, it could work better for them.  Retail experts at the BNP Paribas bank point out that “Before you needed 250 or so stores to reach most of the population.  Now big retailers want perhaps 75”. 

Beyond consolidating in fewer, bigger sales locations, store chains are realizing that a broader change of approach is needed.  Big brands need a powerful web presence, with their mall-based stores acting as “brand ambassadors” to give their products physical accessibility.  Whereas the limited space in a high street store location restricts the stock they can carry, shopping center outlets can – indeed must – carry the retailer’s whole range in stock.  That way declining footfall patterns can be reversed by added choice, and shoppers may feel more justified in traveling the extra distance for a shopping trip.

The trend in mall shopping is upward, recession or no recession.  Shop rents have been climbing by 5% or more in huge centers like Birmingham’s Bullring and the big Westfield complexes on either side of London.  Yet barely any of the store locations available there are standing empty.

The underlying consumer attitude that big shopping centers try to tap into is that of Shopping As Recreation.  This starts with removing stresses and frustrations, so easy loading access and low-cost car parking – free parking is even better – are part of the attraction.  What makes a day at the mall preferable to a morning of internet shopping?  Aside from profusion of choice in the stores themselves, shopping centers have to project the image of being desirable destinations in their own right. Grand architectural schemes like the giant curves of the glass dome over the new Trinity Leeds center can be part of the attraction.  Leisure activity facilities add to the fun.  And a significant amount of mall space is given over to restaurants.  You can’t eat out online.

It remains to be seen whether returning consumer confidence will revitalize high streets or play further into the hands of big shopping centers.  As people get used to the out-of-town option, will the mall begin to pall?

Zone: Material Status Country: Europe Product – Retail