Given the threat of e-commerce making inroads on convenience/time-spend of shopping (innovations such as augmented reality improve online shopping experience further), what makes a shopping mall’s future relatively bright?
On some counts, offline has advantages, on the other hand there’s weak points that need to be minimized. I make a distinction on this basis and call them “pulls to offline” and “lack of push to online”.
Pulls to offline
- Having a “great experience”
- Beautiful and clean mall
- Meeting friends
- “M’as tu vu” (requires mall to be frequented by many shoppers, ideally local)
- Day trip allure of a mall: a whole family can enjoy a day off in one place
- For buying apparel: human advice
- In-store advice and advice from friends. As online is making in-roads on human advice, I believe friends’ advice is more of a selling point
Lack of push to online
As buying online is efficient w.r.t time spent, this is a weak point for some offline shop. Mitigators:
- great location close to population with disposable income: an outlet might be a pain to reach in the middle of nowhere versus a shopping centre next to a train/tube station, or simply on the way for tourists walking by
- population density in the neighbourhood (think city centres)
- Access to multiple shops at once
- Large shopping malls offer time-efficient access to many shops
- High occupancy rate is a win for consumers as well in this respect
- Access to non-shopping stores that consumers need to visit anyway
- Mall with gyms/restaurants/grocery/barbers
- the sunk cost of getting to these places near other stores might even make shopping before/after more time-efficient than online shopping. These places might be the next shopping mall “anchors”
- Mall with gyms/restaurants/grocery/barbers
The points in green are arguments for large shopping malls with many tenants from diverse categories such as gyms that cannot be done online.
If some shopping malls are indeed able to offer a “great experience”, this might even pull more footfall to these outfits over time as leisure time rises around the world.
The best shopping malls are aggregators of great brands for the best consumers. As such, there are some winner-take-all dynamics at play in this weak two-sided network (weak because the network is very local, but luxury brands and shoppers compound the network effect through increased possibility of building long-term relationship).
On property management
Best property managements are therefore long-term thinkers: willing to invest in renovations / repurposing to keep footfall and tenant quality high. For example, buying back shares at 8% current yield might optically look better than making a 7% ROI renovation, while the renovation can avoid atrophy in the type of customers, tenant base indirectly for years ahead.
It seems that the number of retail shops will certainly grow slower versus the growth in retail sales as the weaker brick-and-mortar links get shut out. The highest quality shopping malls meanwhile will still see a change in tenant base as tenants with products that are great to sell online disappear (uniform products with long-tail offerings such as books, films). Experience in managing tenant base is another important treat.
Some companies such as Apple (Stratechery, Scott Galloway podcast), BMW use beautiful retail stores to raise brand awareness and customer experience. Some other functions that these stores serve besides selling products:
- advertise brand (a superior physical impression is superior to an ad on a screen; what is in particular interesting is that the human brain better memorizes physical as opposed to digital impressions example 1, example 2). The superior physical interior, product design, aroma can convince the consumer that Louis Vuitton is for example superior to Zara in a way that digital ads cannot.
- high-end product feature awareness, customer education
- Genius bars in themselves are a point of differentiation as competitors do not offer this service
In short, these stores are but one piece in a consumer’s product experience. In Apple’s case, an iPhone is not only hardware, but also software (iOS) and experiences such as customer support and trying out new launches of features in Apple stores, underlying again how experience is becoming more important for shopping centres.
The economics of growing sales for brands is permanently changed because of a growing online sales share. Whereas in the past brands grew by growing quantity of offline presence because of the fixed link with sales, today, brands will want to occupy the best offline spots and rather not want to be associated with inferior malls. A “flight to quality” malls seems plausible.
To remain competitive, shopping malls have to pull consumers through strengths and avoid a push to online by remaining competitive on the strong counts of online (convenience, price). Multiple factors require malls to be
- In the vicinity of high-density affluent population or transport anchors (metro, train, highway) (time-saver, social aspect)
- Beautiful and well-kept (experience)
- Diverse tenant base with anchors such as gyms, restaurants that will largely remain offline experiences (time saver)
- Big (experience for a whole family)
The advantage that offline offers in terms of branding seems most relevant for luxury brands and hence luxury malls.
As malls ideally aggregate the best brands with local consumers, it is in a sense similar to the newspaper business: you want to own the number one mall in each city.
A major risk concerning e-commerce is that luxury brands themselves might become less important in an increasingly online sales world. We see this with Amazon trying to sell white-labels as consumers increasingly weigh functionality and price over brand as information asymmetry is smaller online (driven by e.g. customer reviews).