Will immersive experiences revitalize U.S. malls?
Big, immersive entertainment experiences were sweeping the U.S. before the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the need to socially distance put a pause on that type of interactive entertainment. Now as parts of the world appear to be bringing the pandemic under control, some are speculating that experiential entertainment could emerge as the new main attraction at the shopping mall.
A struggling mall in Houston has replaced a Bed Bath & Beyond with a 40,000 square foot interactive art museum called Seismique, according to the Houston Chronicle. Another mall in the region is using a location of the home décor chain Z Gallerie that closed in 2019 to house an augmented reality experience from a special effects company called Flight School.
Mall property owners assert that experiential entertainment like this can fill space vacated by retailers that are moving toward smaller concepts, act as a draw to bring foot traffic to other mall stores and improve the profile of a mall.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, some unique, large footprint entertainment enterprises already had their sights set on malls. In 2018, Las Vegas mainstay Cirque du Soleil, for instance, announced plans to open 24,000 square-foot family entertainment centers in Canadian malls. Climbing gyms, trampoline parks and other immersive/experiential offerings had also begun to pick up steam in malls.
By that same time, however, the fate of the shopping mall had become a perennial question in retail as customer interest in the once thriving model saw a sustained drop.
Some have recently suggested that food hall and farmers’ market-type offerings, beyond the traditional QSR food court, could be the path to restoring mall foot traffic.
Others, like Simon’s Property Group (SPG) CEO David Simon, predict that the shopping mall is poised for a comeback due to broader social trends. The return of residents to the suburbs, less commuting into the cities and a drastic rise in working from home all point toward an impending mall rebound, in Mr. Simon’s approximation.
SPG has also been exploring ways to embed newer aspects of today’s retail ecosystem into the shopping mall. For instance last summer the group was in talks with Amazon.com to turn some defunct department stores into distribution hubs.
- New breed of retailer helps malls experience a revival – Houston Chronicle
- Cirque du Soleil entertainment group to launch family entertainment centres – Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group
- How to save today’s mall – RetailWire
- Is suburban retail (malls, too) primed for a comeback? – RetailWire
- Will Amazon install distribution hubs in malls across America? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think big entertainment experiences can adequately replace the revenue and draw malls counted on from anchor department stores? Do you see shopping centers with quickly rotating pop-ups and/or those with big entertainment experiences becoming the future of malls?