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Is the End of the Mall Really Coming?

I keep hearing predictions that the modern mall will be gone 15 years from now. In fact, a couple of months ago, the CEO of a major mall chain gave a keynote speech in which even he predicted the end of the mall as we currently know it. As foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores continues to drop, will there be no choice but to shop online?

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about the increasing number of store closings. And we aren’t just talking about Barnes & Noble. We are talking about store chains as big as J.C. Penney and Sears that sell product that won’t ever get usurped by digital versions. We all need to wear and wash clothing, right?

The article talked about the costs involved with having a physical brick-and-mortar presence but we all know that one of the biggest issues facing retailers today is the rise of e-commerce. Amazon is taking over. It’s much easier to log onto your computer and order something in a few minutes vs. getting in your car and driving to the local department store.

One of the biggest reasons that people still go to stores at all is to touch and feel the product itself. In recent years, we have seen the rise of showrooming in which consumers go to the store to investigate their purchase options and then go online to purchase the product at the best price. The only other thing really missing is the immediate gratification of wearing that new dress or shirt tonight.

But in a few years, you’ll be able to buy something on Amazon and a drone will be able to deliver it to you that very same day! So, is there a way to turn the tide and save brick-and-mortar malls? I (and others) think it’s possible, but the real question is “How?”

Recently, retailers have started realizing that they can turn this online shopping trend around by delivering an experience or by offering added conveniences in-store. Some new technologies like beacons will achieve both goals at once by “surprising and delighting” consumers while they shop and at the same time offering discounts and personalized information. Other stores will match prices or send consumers personalized information in-store using location-based technologies such as GPS which encourages consumers to purchase on-site vs. going home to purchase online. And some stores are implementing exciting new technologies like the Magic Mirror, which allows you to try on items virtually without ever taking off the outfit you walked in wearing!

Other tactics being used to address the immediate gratification/convenience/best price issues are the buy online, pick up in-store option, the buy online, return in-store option and the go to store and buy online with free shipping option; all ways to help consumers save money on shipping. In light of all of these new options and advancements, I think malls still have a fighting chance.

Maria Bertrand