The Mall: Destination Entertainment

Jacqueline Renfrow

I love hearing the phrase, "The shopping mall is dead," because I can't help but smile at the absurdity. If you've seen the crowds at any of the three malls that I frequent, visiting at least one on a weekly basis, you too would scoff.

Shopping centers in Southern California can't be that different from many urban malls in the United States: Parking lots fill up by noon, the food court bustling, the common areas filled with holiday attractions and train rides for children.

And while I probably visit a mall more often than many shoppers—barring those with small children looking for something to do on a weekend and teens exerting their independence—I must say, I'm not sick of it. I've even grown to enjoy the experience.

Why? The mall isn't just for shopping anymore; it has been transformed into a common space for entertaining. These societal centers offer not only stores for outfitting your homes and seasonal wardrobe changes, but also coffee shops, restaurants, movie theaters and more—places to spend time, to linger.

Everything from lighting to store selection has made malls a competitive contender for entertainment in 2015. That's not to say that some malls aren't suffering. I can see it firsthand in one not far from my home. The retail occupants haven't changed in 10 years, the food court is outdated with unhealthy options, and it lacks a common area with any real attraction on the main floor.

With the recent passing of Alfred Taubman, 91, the real estate investor that pioneered the indoor mall, it's now a good time to pay tribute to the companies that are creating the mall of the future.

Even the mall's retailers, or mall occupants, have changed the look and feel of their stores for 2015. Interactive experiences are all around, from kiosks that display inventory assortments and let shoppers purchase online, to music videos streaming on walls.

One prime example of the ultimate shopping experience—retail wrapped up in entertainment—is the Disney store, complete with music, videos, an area for coloring and viewing, and interactive game sessions between employees and guests.

During a session at this year's NRF Big Show, William Taubman, COO at Taubman Centers and son of the deceased Alfred Taubman, spoke about the changing face of malls. He discussed how these newly created shopping developments stand to help, not hurt, retailers.

Taubman encouraged retailers to take big risks and lease space in a new mall. While retailers will need to pay a premium price to secure a footing in developments that emphasize technology and social interactions, the potential for future foot traffic and in-store sales is well worth the risk.

Ultimately, Taubman believes the number of shopping centers around the country will decrease, but that those left standing will be more upscale with a greater omnichannel presence.

Jesse Tron, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), addressed the recent shift in shopping-mall focus on "experience-driven shopping." "It's about bringing shoppers into a unique atmosphere and outfitting the entire center for the most optimal experience," he said.

There are essentially two types of shopping trips, according to Tron. The first trip is about efficiency: getting in and out of a mall as quickly as possible. These are often mid-week trips when a shopper wants to be hyper-efficient. The second variety is leisurely, where the focus is on the experience overall.

And as the mall of the future continues to morph, adding new technology and more opportunities to entertain the shopper, there is a chance that foot traffic may once again pick up from its dwindling numbers.

"Talking about the original mall is like comparing today's cars with a Ford Model T," Tron said. "There is no correlation. Just as there is no correlation today to the mall of the '80s." -Jacqueline