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    Don’t Let Rapid Mall Growth Leave You Behind

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    The average lifespan of a mall design globally is about seven years, and probably shrinking. This means that malls built before 2004 probably do not provide the amenities and shopping environment or international fashion brands that younger, more affluent consumers are seeking. Let’s have a look at what would decide the success of the malls in the long run.

    The Spencer Plaza in Chennai, that opened way back in 1990, is believed to be the first-ever mall to be built in India. By 1999, only three malls were in business in the entire country, but in the 21st century, malls have experienced explosive growth, soaring to a total of around 250 through 2011.

    Spencer Plaza didn’t have to worry about competition two decades ago, but that’s not true for today’s mall operators in India. Serious competition is springing up in major communities across the country, and that means the shopping centre developers need to ensure that the shopping experience they provide to consumers is the most compelling in town. However, many mall developers are resting on their laurels, with mall designs and retail layouts that are outdated and fail to differentiate themselves from competitors.

    A 2011 article in the International Journal of Management and Marketing Research (IJMMR) identifies six factors that affect a mall’s success: comfort, diversity, luxury, mall essence, entertainment and convenience.

    Comfort
    Early malls in India were designed to create the most retail space with the least cost. Traffic flow was constricted, with a single entrance/exit and crowded, dead-end corridors. Only the occasional hard bench was provided to allow shoppers some rest. IJMMR identifies “low ceiling heights, bad lighting and single entry and exit points” as a major source of problems in older malls.

    Modern mall design focuses on the consumer first, because uncomfortable consumers mean fewer footfalls and declining business. Mall developer Westfield Group developed a comprehensive amenities package for the furniture, area rugs and accessories in its 57 US retail centres’ common areas. Large open areas with comfortable soft furniture and decorative touches transform a day at the mall into a relaxing, pleasurable experience.

    Loftier interiors with wide corridors and large volumes of space are beginning to appear in India – North Country Mall at Mohali is a good example. A “porous” design that breaks the solid portions of the interior and exterior apart – adding glass to visually connect with the outside – is much more comfortable for shoppers than tight, cramped spaces. Multiple entry points ease access and reduce congestion.

    Diversity
    Years ago, Indian malls got built on the premise that the more retailers assembled in one place, the better. The result was a jumble of small retailers in small spaces with little organization and no defined plan. That is not diversity – that’s confusion. Shoppers seeking a specific product or category were forced to search the mall for their items – a tiring, frustrating experience. Malls today view diversity differently – not just a very wide variety of retailers, but a planned selection of retailers organized to provide convenient shopper access. For example, the North Country Mall vertically “stacks” different price points and merchandise zones on different levels – a practice seldom seen in Western malls, that permits a broader retail selection on a smaller geographic footprint.

    Luxury
    Newer malls strive to create a luxury hotel ambience for shoppers. At tvsdesign, we call this “resort retail,” with an emphasis on creature comfort and providing a hospitality experience with the same kind of amenities you would find at a fine resort. Social gathering areas and services like concierge and a VIP arrival area help create this resort ambience.

    Mall Essence
    Mall essence is harder to define, but it boils down to branding the retail environment and the shopping experience. Consumers are seeking a shopping experience that makes them feel comfortable, encourages them to stay longer and, more importantly, persuades them to return. New malls can meet or exceed these needs and consumer expectations by creating iconic “shoppertainment” locations.

    We at tvsdesign call this “place-making.” Place-making means creating mall designs that meet shoppers’ desires for more than just goods and services. It means crafting a relaxed environment that allows consumers to take home a memorable experience – one that they want to experience again and again. And that includes almost every element of the mall – retailer selection, mall design, dining options and amenities.

    Entertainment
    Entertainment is one of the elements in place-making, and it applies to every aspect of the mall that encourages shopper enjoyment.

    Mall dining areas are another essential feature of 21st century malls, and should be more than just “fuelling areas.” Mall dining should offer conventional fast food along with more healthful options and finer dining, even entertainment, to suit varied demographics – perhaps a DJ in one area, piano player in another. The Plaza Egaña in Santiago, Chile, has restaurants on the roof of the mall that offer great views and open space. Together with a multi-screen cinema, an IMAX theatre, a food court and a jazz club, they help create a powerful entertainment destination. North Country’s 1,60,000 sq. ft. dining area includes an outdoor terrace for open-air dining. Some Westfield malls in the United States and Europe feature wine bars and live music.

    Convenience
    Convenience covers a number of aspects in a mall design. Is the facility close to public transportation, and can that be incorporated into the design? Is sufficient parking available to accommodate a busy shopping day? Does that parking area support multiple entry points to avoid crowding and congestion? Does the array of retailers match the needs of local shoppers?

    But a summary of what makes modern malls attractive to shoppers is not helpful to the manager of a mall that is in need of updating. What is helpful is an understanding of the techniques and design strategies that can convert an undifferentiated, unattractive mall into a shopper-friendly destination.

    An intelligent refurbishment design strategy often can be accomplished with improved lighting, updated amenities and fresh new upgraded wall and floor finishes. For example, The Plaza at King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, after renovation and expansion attracted premiere anchors and repositioned the center to be a an internationally noted shopping destination.

    Success Formula
    Comfort in a mall can be improved quickly and easily by replacing uncomfortable benches with modern, durable furniture and accessories, including chairs, tables, carpets and lamps. Low-ceiling heights are more difficult to fix, but the perception of height can be created with imaginative ceiling design. For example, ceiling refurbishments at the Florida Mall and Cumberland Mall in the US created a much airier feel to mall areas. Adding unique lighting fixtures can change a dungeon-like shopping area into a much brighter, more appealing space.

    Diversity is a function of day-to-day mall management. Is the current collection of retailers working, or is a more targeted approach called for? Does the retail selection coincide with the demographics of the mall? Is there an opportunity to bring in luxury brands to attract a new customer group? Can retailer locations be realigned to create zonal retailing?

    Luxury is easier to accomplish in a new mall because elements like VIP entrances and concierge services can be designed into the facility. But it can also be accomplished in refurbished malls by upgrading wall cladding and lighting, opening up spaces, creating gathering places with comfortable furniture and accessories, adding valet parking, and de-cluttering the mall by removing the endless collection of advertising materials applied to every surface.

    Creating or improving the mall essence requires a mall operator to take stock of his facility’s assets and build on those, adding upgraded food courts and entertainment opportunities and eliminating as many of the negative factors as possible. The goal is to turn the mall into a destination. It may not compete with the big regional malls, but it can be a star in its own local market. Consumer research can help create a destination that is attuned to its shoppers and makes their visits more memorable for them. For example, a refurbished mall can make itself a local centre for entertainment, a key element in place-making. Adding a cinema, highlighting local arts and culture, bringing in live music – all these can help turn a mall without personality, into a location where people gather. Not to mention, an increased footfall lead to business growth.

    Convenience can be improved in a number of ways. Constrained by a single entrance? If the new retail diversity strategy reduces the number of retailers, take that opportunity to create attractive new mall entrances as part of the refurbishment plan. Look for ways to improve mall access in other ways. The other similar observations can be- Can parking be added or increased? Is there convenient access to public transportation that can be linked to the mall with shuttles or tunnels? Is a parking garage an option?

    India’s mall are growing in number and size, with greater emphasis on techniques that have worked elsewhere. These new malls may compel more affluent consumers to vote with their feet to the detriment of older local malls. But the opportunity remains for dated facilities to reposition and refurbish themselves and continue to be a part of India’s growing organized retail segment.

    About the author:
    Donna Childs is the Principal at tvsdesign which is a global design firm whose award-winning solutions reflect more than 40 years of experience in planning, architecture and interior design. With offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Dubai and Shanghai, the firm’s passions for design excellence, sustainability and collaboration produce client-driven results. With projects around the globe, tvsdesign is recognized for its work in multiple market segments including convention and public assembly, cultural arts, retail and mixed-use, office, workplace and showroom, education, government, hospitality industries. The sustainable design experience of the tvsdesign studios encompasses 23 LEED Certified and 16 LEED registered projects. In 2002, tvsdesign was awarded the prestigious American Institute of Architects Firm Award.

    *This column was originally published in August-September 2012 issue of Shopping Centre News.