Reinventing the Shopping Mall

The most extraordinary advances in store merchandising – and there have been many - have happened within individual stores (like Apple) but not within the mall itself. Shopping malls today are frankly not all that different from the souks of Marrakech. But the strategic roles of the mall versus the individual component shops tell us that the big opportunity for increased sales must be driven by the mall and not rely on the sum of individual stores.

Here's a simple truth: when the shopper's arms are full they leave the mall. Of course if they're shopping with other family members, or have brought along a large-size stroller they get, in effect, more arms to fill. But there's still that physical limit. When their arms are full, they leave.

Supermarkets figured this one out a very long time ago with the ubiquity of the shopping cart. You come, take a cart and proceed to fill it, leaving only when your appetite for shopping is sated. Perhaps you bring along a partner or older child to push a second cart. But, here too, when the carts are filled (or the entire wish list and serendipitous purchases are all made) they leave.


The shopping mall, where America tends to buy the vast majority of their non-food items, almost forces you to leave before you have seen all the shops and been tempted by them. They minimize the serendipity of finding something unplanned. There's no logical 'racetrack' for the shopper to follow, and, as we've said, when their arms are full, they leave.


But suppose their arms don't get full even though they're buying up a storm. What happens then? Perhaps the shopper goes into something akin to a shark's feeding frenzy, looking at more and more stores for excitement, ideas and opportunities. Enter what should be the newest idea in malls: empty arms.


How does it work? Simplicity itself: the mall stores are all connected to a pick and pack facility that assembles all your shopping and delivers it to your point of departure. Shoppers, using either a dedicated device or, better yet, a shopping mall app on their smart phone, walk around and get inspired. When they buy something they need not even take it to the cashier. They can complete their entire transaction on the app and then pick up ALL their various purchases when they leave.


Imagine going to the food court unencumbered by two arm-loads of bags. Shopping becomes an absolutely pleasurable experience, exciting even. Your app keeps your shopping total and can even be preset with a real or theoretical limit. You can set some priorities the same way you do with a supermarket web application that creates a shopping list. Few shoppers in a supermarket buy ONLY what was on their list. They virtually have to go past everything in order to get out. Some food retailers like Stew Leonard's in Connecticut, actually make it almost impossible for you to leave without completing their circuitous 'racetrack'; no simple way to the register, no simple way of avoiding all that merchandising temptation.


Retrofitting an existing mall might be difficult, but pick and pack is such a well understood and scientifically studied business that the technology is virtually all there. The first mall developer or large store that seizes on this breakthrough will win big.


So let's go shopping.